Apple removed a Christian group's iPhone app from its iTunes Store Tuesday night after more than 150,000 people signed a petition criticizing what they labeled a "gay cure" app.
"We removed the Exodus International app from the app store because it violates the developer guidelines by being offensive to large groups of people," Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told FoxNews.com.
The app, created by Exodus International, a Christian ministry that uses biblical teaching to help those struggling with same-sex attraction, initially came under fire after Truth Wins Out, a gay rights group, called it "hateful and bigoted" toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. That group then initiated a petition drive to remove the app at the website Change.org.
Prior to its removal, the app had received a 4+ rating from Apple, meaning that it did not have any objectionable content and was suitable for users of all ages.
"We are extremely disappointed to learn of Apple's decision to deny equal representation in the public square," said Exodus President Alan Chambers in a statement. "Discrimination of thought and belief obstructs essential dialogue and authentic diversity."
He noted that Apple provides hundreds of apps specific to the LGBT community and offers the Gay Christian Network's podcasts through its iTunes store.
"Ultimately, this issue comes down to what we, as a culture, believe about equality and the freedom to express our beliefs," said Chambers. "It is our hope that Apple will reconsider its decision and allow our organization to be part of the ongoing conversation about the challenging issues many face today."
In a statement, Change.org editor Mike Jones said that he was "thrilled" that Apple removed the Exodus app: "The message Apple is sending here is clear: There is no place for 'ex-gay therapy' on the Apple platform."
Jeff Buchanan, Exodus' senior director of Church Equipping & Student Ministries, said gay rights activists have grossly misrepresented the app in an effort to incite a response, adding that Exodus does not aim to force people to change their lifestyles but "help those who have unwanted same-sex attraction."
"We love the gay community," Buchanan said. "[Exodus is] about accepting those who are gay and explaining the love of Christ to them."
The app, which was an extension of the group's website, allowed iPhone owners to directly access information about ministry events, news, blog posts, videos, podcasts, and the group's Facebook page. One feature addressed bullying from a biblical perspective.
A similar petition drive at Change.org last November influenced Apple to pull an app created by the Manhattan Declaration-a document affirming Christian belief in the sanctity of life and marriage. (See "iAttack," Dec. 2, 2010.) The website, which promotes causes such as same-sex marriage and abortion, collected nearly 8,000 signatures from people who said the app was anti-gay and oppressed a woman's right to choose.
Despite a petition of more than 46,000 signatures asking Apple to reinstate the Manhattan Declaration app, it has yet to return to the iTunes Store.
"I think this is a grave concern to many Christian organizations and churches that share our traditional biblical worldview," Exodus' Buchanan said. "Whose to say [Apple] won't target the apps of other churches since they seem to be dictating what is acceptable?"