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SEC rules in favor of conservative Apple investors

The American Family Association says the tech company needs more transparency

An Apple Store in Brooklyn, N.Y. Associated Press/Photo by Kathy Willens, file

SEC rules in favor of conservative Apple investors

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is backing shareholders who are protesting anti-religious and anti-conservative bias in Apple’s app store.

The American Family Association (AFA) submitted a resolution for Apple shareholders to vote on at their 2024 annual meeting in the spring. The resolution calls for more accountability and transparency from Apple, said Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel and senior vice president of corporate engagement at Alliance Defending Freedom. According to Tedesco, Apple attempted to bar AFA’s resolution from the ballot, but last week’s SEC ruling ensures a vote will occur.

“If Apple is committed to free speech, and if they are the gatekeepers to what has essentially become today’s public square, we need them to have policies in place that protect the free flow of information,” Tedesco said. “That’s not what they have. … They have policies in place that allow for rampant viewpoint discrimination.”

Apple’s terms of service say that the tech company “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, ‘I’ll know it when it see it.’ And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.”

Additionally, in its App Store Review Guidelines, Apple defines “objectionable content” as content that is “offensive, insensitive, upsetting, intended to disgust, in exceptionally poor taste, or just plain creepy.”

“That’s actually their policy language. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s probably the most inconsistent with free speech from a policy perspective [that] I’ve seen from a social media and tech company,” Tedesco said. “You couldn’t come up with any more vague and subjective standard for what’s allowed and what’s not allowed.”

The App Store guidelines provide a breakdown of types of objectionable content. But some phrases, like “inflammatory religious commentary” or “harmful concepts which capitalize or seek to profit on recent or current events,” leave considerable room for interpretation.

Apple’s app store operates almost like public space—in 2022, the store had 650 million average weekly visitors, according to Apple’s Newsroom. If an app isn’t on Apple’s app store, it is unlikely to be successful, said Jerry Bowyer, president of Bowyer Research, which helped AFA file its resolution. Bowyer is a contributor to WORLD Opinions.

Apple has used its policies to ban religious speech and content, such as removing apps that promote Biblical views on marriage and sexuality, Bowyer said.

In 2010, Apple removed the Manhattan Declaration app, which promoted traditional marriage and pro-life views, for “being offensive to large groups of people.” Then in 2019, Apple banned a pro-life news organization, LifeSite News, for displaying “intolerance towards a specific group.”

Additionally, Apple removed popular Bible and Quran apps from its Chinese app store at the request of country officials in 2021.

While resolutions are very rarely passed at shareholder votes, that isn’t the goal, Bowyer explained. AFA’s resolution is a “conversation starter” with Apple leaders about their guidelines, Bowyer said. When the resolution is on the ballot, it gives AFA the chance to present and share its concerns with Apple’s CEO, board, and shareholders, potentially leading to policy changes and updates.

Bowyer said he wasn’t surprised that AFA had to fight to be on Apple’s ballot, adding that companies like Apple often try to shoot down resolutions.

However, the SEC’s ruling in favor of AFA was surprising, Alliance Defending Freedom’s Tedesco said. Historically, the SEC hasn’t ruled in favor of resolutions from conservative organizations like AFA. The SEC has traditionally favored progressive organizations’ resolutions.

That tradition has shifted in the past year. During the 2023 shareholder season, the SEC ruled against requests from PayPal and JPMorgan Chase to reject similar conservative shareholder resolutions.

“Hats off to the American Family Association—but, you know, what about the other 100, 200 other Christian ministries that own stock that complain about corporate America that don’t do anything about it? Maybe they need to follow the example of AFA,” Bowyer said. “[Christian ministries] are ignoring what we think is the most fruitful mission field for cultural engagement in the country right now.”

Liz Lykins

Liz is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.


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