Politics & Policy

Behold the Free-Speech Hypocrisy of the Corporate Left

Apple CEO Tim Cook in Tokyo, Japan, October 2016 (Reuters photo: Toru Hanai)
Apple claims to be a defender of First Amendment rights, but it just joined other business heavyweights in trying to deny them to Masterpiece Cakeshop.

On Tuesday, April 18, 2017, Apple CEO Tim Cook accepted the Newseum’s Free Expression Award. In his remarks, Cook clearly and unequivocally defended the idea that corporations have values, and that they must protect their values in the marketplace and the public square:

We have a perspective on major public issues, and we are prepared to take a stand for things that we deeply believe in. . . . A company is not some faceless, shapeless thing that exists apart from society. A company is a collection of human beings, and part of the fabric of our society. A company like ours has a culture, it has values, and it has a voice. Apple has spoken out, and will continue to speak out, for what we believe as a company. And the positions we take will continue to guide our actions.

Apple uses its voice not just to “speak out” but to shape its product offerings. For example, after the Charleston church shooting, it banned apps that make “offensive or mean-spirited” use of the Confederate flag from its App Store. It’s also designed watch bands celebrating LGBTQ identities for the express purpose of helping LGBTQ organizations bring about “positive change.”

In other words, Apple speaks and expresses the values of the human beings who run it. That’s its right, and if it consistently defended that right, then Cook’s award would be well deserved. But it doesn’t. Apple’s actual corporate philosophy can summed up in eight words:

Free speech for me, but not for thee.

Late last month, Cook’s company joined 36 other corporate hypocrites (such heavyweights as Yelp, Amazon, American Airlines, and Citigroup) to urge the Supreme Court to rule against the free-speech rights of a small business, Masterpiece Cakeshop. This tiny Colorado bakery did nothing more and nothing less than exercise the very same rights that Cook proclaimed in April: It used its voice to defend its corporate values. Just as Apple was unwilling to use its App Store to express ideas it found offensive, Masterpiece Cakeshop chose not to create a rainbow wedding cake to celebrate a gay wedding. Just as Apple claims that it engages in expression, not discrimination, Masterpiece Cakeshop says it serves all comers, without regard to race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

These parallels seem not to have occurred to Cook, though. He’s happily signed Apple on to its fellow corporate titans’ argument for the most extreme form of government censorship: compelled speech. These companies are arguing for legal precedents that, in different contexts, could be used to force Apple to open its App Store to abhorrent images and compel it to use its own artists to create designs expressing ideas it hates. As a practical matter, they are seeking to render null and void one of the most powerful statements in American constitutional history, the protection of rights of conscience articulated in West Virginia v. Barnette:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

Apple and its allies claim they’re merely defending nondiscrimination laws, but this is fundamentally, demonstrably false. Masterpiece Cakeshop discriminates on the basis not of identities but rather of messages. Its owner has rejected multiple cake designs from different classes of customers on the basis of message alone. In guarding its App Store, Apple does the exact same thing.

Here’s the thing about defending free speech: It always involves defending speech you dislike. A liberty does not truly exist when it’s enjoyed only by the powerful or the popular. Applauding Apple for having a voice is like applauding a politician for seeking office. It’s not the defense of free speech; it’s the exercise of free speech.

Apple and its allies have failed their test. They’ve decided to try to monopolize the marketplace of ideas with the same vigor that they seek to monopolize their own industries. They don’t want to compete; they want to dominate. They are using their immense economic and political power to try to grant the government greater authority over the mouths of men. You can call this authoritarianism. You can even call it corporate progressivism. But you must not, ever, call it a defense of free expression.

Tim Cook, give back your award.


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David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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