In October, Apple made available in its iTunes, iPhone, and iPad app stores an app from the Manhattan Declaration, a statement of Christian beliefs about marriage, life, and religious freedom. Apple initially gave the app a 4+ rating, which means it contained "no objectionable material" and is appropriate for anyone 4 years old and up. But over the Thanksgiving holiday, the company abruptly removed the app from its store, with its press office explaining it was now considered "offensive to large groups of people."
In the interim, a website promoting causes like same-sex marriage and abortion, change.org, collected approximately 8,000 signatures petitioning Apple to remove the Manhattan Declaration app, calling it a "hate fest," adding that "supporting homophobia and efforts to restrict choice is bad business." So Apple removed the app and change.org posted, "Victory!" over its petition.
"If [the declaration] is offensive, so is every Christian operation," Charles Colson, one of the authors of the declaration, told me Thursday. "If [Apple] can decide all of the sudden, 'We're going to erase a viewpoint,' wow, that's scary. I'm hoping they'll turn around."
The drafters of the Manhattan Declaration have started their own petition drive for Apple to reinstate the app, writing, "The Declaration does not promote hate or homophobia. It is not anti-gay. Rather, it proclaims that all human beings are loved by God and are worthy of respect."
By mid-afternoon Thursday, the online petition had more than 24,000 signatures and traffic swamped servers handling the declaration's website, forcing organizers to set up alternative sites for people add their names in support. Michelle Farmer, spokesperson for the organizers of the Manhattan Declaration, said the petition has been gaining about 50 signatures a minute.
Noted Catholic scholar and professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University Robert George was the chief writer of the Manhattan Declaration, with collaboration from Beeson Divinity School's Timothy George, and Colson, who is the founder of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and Prison Fellowship. The declaration has nearly half a million signatures and garnered support from Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and evangelical leaders.
The declaration's preamble reads, "While the whole scope of Christian moral concern, including a special concern for the poor and vulnerable, claims our attention, we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions."
"We just can't believe there's not room for an app that focuses on these issues," said Farmer.
"I find the whole thing unfathomable," Colson added. "A very substantial block of America is being blackballed by Apple-which is shocking."
On Monday, Manhattan Declaration organizers faxed their request for the app's reinstatement to Apple CEO Steve Jobs' personal fax number (that letter can be read here). They followed that up with calls to the company's media relations office on Monday and Tuesday without any response. Declaration organizers also have been in contact with Christians working at Apple, Farmer said, who are trying to "get it on Jobs' radar."
"We do believe he's a reasonable man, and we know that he's busy," Farmer added. "Once he is able to slow down, take a breath, focus on this, we think he'll do the right thing and reinstate the app."
Those behind the Manhattan Declaration aren't disputing Apple's right as a private company to pull apps. Earlier this year, Christians hailed Apple's decision to ban porn apps from its store. But in this case, Farmer said pulling the app simply wasn't "reasonable."
"It does cause us to wonder if this is the beginning of scrubbing religion from any app that's out there," she added.
Farmer said the app's "detractors" found the poll at the end of the declaration particularly galling. It asked questions like, "Do you support same-sex relationships?" Declaration organizers are in the process of removing the poll from the app, she said.
WORLD's editor in chief Marvin Olasky and founder Joel Belz both signed the declaration, which can be read here.