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Fighting Apple’s anti-religious bias

An upcoming shareholder vote is an opportunity to engage with the world’s largest company

The Apple logo at the Grand Central Terminal in New York Associated Press/Photo by Mark Lennihan

Fighting Apple’s anti-religious bias
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The Securities and Exchange Commission recently rejected Apple’s request to exclude a shareholder proposal from being voted on at its annual meeting, and that proposal had to do with the deplatorming of religious content.

Here’s an explainer on the world of proxies, proposals, and annual meetings. Being a shareholder of a company is a bit like being a citizen of a country. For example, shareholders have a right to vote at annual meetings. They can elect representatives to the board of directors. In addition, shareholders have a right that is analogous to citizen initiative questions. They can put their own questions on the ballot. Instead of just responding to management’s agenda, investors set the agenda. There is a minimum investment required, but it is only $2,000 dollars’ worth for three years.

For roughly four decades, that authority has been used almost exclusively by the cultural left. The center and right simply did not know how to do it, nor even that it was an option. A small ideological faction with minimal stakes worked the system for decades until basically it won over the large institutions.

That is now changing. For example, the American Family Association is an investor in Apple stock, and in that capacity decided to challenge the company over its history of deplatforming religious content. After an outcry from the usual suspects, Apple removed an app created for the Manhattan Declaration, which affirmed in a sober and scholarly tone the traditional Christian teaching on same sex-marriage and abortion. Later, Apple temporarily banned LifeSite News, another Christian group. At the demand of the Chinese government, Apple removed both a Bible and a Quran app. This correspondent has not been able to find a single example of similar banning of groups on the left, and numerous discussions with Apple have not produced any examples from the company.

The company’s terms of service are shockingly vague. Although the terms of service document claims, “We strongly support all points of view being represented on the App Store,” it goes on to warn that it “will reject apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court justice once said about pornography, ‘I’ll know it when I see it’.”

Apple gives itself an utterly subjective blank check when it comes to banning.

In other words, Apple gives itself an utterly subjective blank check when it comes to banning. Apple asked the SEC for permission to ban other shareholders from being able to see the proposal on their ballots (perhaps Apple executives knew when they saw it that the shareholder proposal was “over the line”), claiming that it was already substantially performing what AFA was asking for, that is, being transparent about its banning criteria.

It’s no wonder the SEC rejected that argument. The reasoning was thoroughly rebutted by Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented AFA before the SEC in this matter. The only thing transparent about Apple’s terms of service—which leave app developers and their customers hanging by the thin thread of a “we’ll know it when we see it” banning policy—is that they transparently confer permission for the company to block pretty much whatever it doesn’t like, or at least whatever enrages the particular constellation of interest groups to which Apple has given veto power.

This is a tremendous opportunity for Christians and others of goodwill who are concerned about cancel culture in big tech. The Apple meeting is on Feb. 28 at noon Eastern, and if you own any shares at all, you can log on here. You’ll need your control number, which comes with your proxy card. Once the meeting starts you can not only vote, but you can ask questions in the portal. Asking questions there is like asking questions at a townhall meeting, it gets noticed. The AFA resolution is Proposal 5 here. If this is all a mystery to you, talk to your financial advisor. If it’s a mystery to your financial advisor, tell him to up his game. Christian advisors need to add corporate engagement to their toolbox.

Many Christian ministries own stocks. They are commonly gifted by donors. Let this be a challenge to other Christian ministries as well. Corporate America is perhaps the largest unreached people group for Christian cultural engagement. AFA is using its shares to win a hearing for religious freedom. Where are the rest of you?

Jerry Bowyer

Jerry Bowyer is the chief economist of Vident Financial, editor of Townhall Finance, editor of the business channel of The Christian Post, host of Meeting of Minds with Jerry Bowyer podcast, president of Bowyer Research, and author of The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics. He is also resident economist with Kingdom Advisors, serves on the Editorial Board of Salem Communications, and is senior fellow in financial economics at the Center for Cultural Leadership. Jerry lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Susan, and the youngest three of his seven children.

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