A petition on Change.org demands that Apple remove a controversial app from its iTunes store, which critics claim offers 'hateful and bigoted' speech.
An iPhone app by a religious group that disagrees with homosexuality has gay-rights groups seeing red -- and Apple in the hotseat.
The technology giant is well known for policing the applications available to users of its gadgets, weeding out sexually explicit content, offensive speech, hateful images and more. Yet Apple hasn't weighed in on Exodus International and its app, which advocates "helping" gay individuals via the Bible's teachings.
"As long as Apple does pick and choose, we think this is one that shouldn't make it in," Wayne Besen, the outspoken head of Truth Wins Out, told FoxNews.com. He argues that the mission of the group and its application contradicts Apple's guidelines -- and constitutes hate speech.
"These closet cases put people in therapy and try to make them straight," Besen said. "This is a group with no accountability whatsoever," he added. Besen's group has posted a petition demanding that Apple remove the app. It has been signed by more than 125,000 people.
Jeff Buchanan, senior director of church equipping and student ministries for Exodus International, said the app is far less controversial than Besen believes.
"It's being touted as a 'gay cure' app, and nothing could be further from the truth," he told FoxNews.com. "We present a redemptive, biblical world view on sexuality ... it's a message of love and acceptance of those that are struggling with same-sex attraction."
The controversy underscores a larger issue Apple faces with its self-appointed role as morality police. Were the company to pull this religious app because it offended someone, wouldn’t it be obliged to pull every app that promotes faith, yet offends someone, somewhere?
Put simply, to avoid offense, should Apple avoid religion?
In November 2010, the company banned the Manhattan Declaration app, which urged users to take a stance against gay marriage, as well as countless apps that portray sexual content. Yet the company has remained quiet on Exodus -- possibly because banning this app could open a door Apple is reluctant to peer behind.
"There are other applications by other world religions currently on the Apple platform," Buchanan said. "Apple will need to determine if they will ban all religious applications that promote ideals or beliefs that are deemed offensive to others," Buchanan told FoxNews.com.
Indeed, there are countless religious apps on the iTunes store, each potentially offensive to someone. 7th Heaven turns faith into a game of trivia; the iChing App distills 5,000 years of Chinese knowledge and faith into an astrology toy.
Despite its long history of policing the store for moral violations, Apple has not responded to FoxNews.com requests for information, nor has the company spoken to Besen, Buchanan, or Mike Jones, head of the website change.org that is hosting the poll.
Buchanan simply wants the same access to the store granted to any religious group.
"It's an issue of tolerance," he told FoxNews.com. "We're simply asking that we have the same opportunity to voice our message as others."
Some argue that iPhone apps shouldn't be policed by anyone at all, notably the makers of the thousands of apps Apple deemed too sexually explicit to remain up. Take Fred Clark, whose line of racy On the Go Girls apps were pulled from the app store last year.
"They could’ve just … put in a mature content category," Clark told FoxNews.com. "Instead they decided to wipe out people’s businesses."
He argues that Apple should stop policing entirely. "Open the doors -- make it easy for your competitors, makes my life easier," he argued. Clark, whose titillating apps included girls in bikinis, agreed that the issue stretches further than simple nudity.
"Sexy stuff is just tip of the iceberg," he said.
Until Apple's policy changes, the company does play the role of morality police, Besen pointed out. And until that changes, he thinks the Exodus app needs to go.
" Apple is playing gatekeeper," he told FoxNews.com. "So I think Apple has to have a very serious conversation with themselves." If the company had a completely open platform, his group wouldn't have a platform on which to object, he agreed. It doesn't have an open platform, though -- and that's the argument in the petition.
"Apple's app guidelines released in September last year detail rules on how the company decides what can and cannot be sold through its store: "Any app that is defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited, or likely to place the targeted individual or group in harm's way will be rejected," the petition claims.
Buchanan said that the issue boils down to one of free speech.
"We definitely respect the right of everyone to have the freedom of speech and voice their opinions. The application that is now available is free, and it is a matter of whether people choose to download that or not," he told FoxNews.com.
"This issue is more than just an app. It represents a conflicting point of view on many things," he pointed out, issues that grip all Americans. "It extends beyond Exodus International, beyond the app store, beyond the iPhone," he said.
Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at FoxNews.com, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.