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May 28, 2024

Alito Criticized for Flying ‘Appeal to Heaven’ Flag, but We Should All Raise One

There is a certain humility about the Appeal to Heaven flag.

By Arielle Del Turco

This week, journalists at The New York Times published a story about an alleged “provocative symbol” that was displayed at U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s vacation house in New Jersey nearly a year ago. The Appeal to Heaven flag, which originated during the American War for Independence, flew outside Alito’s home alongside a Phillies flag and a Long Beach Island flag. The flag is being maligned as part of a campaign of petty attacks against the conservative justice. As unnecessary as the controversy surrounding the flag is, it can serve to remind us of this early American symbol and the lessons it still has for us today.

The timing of this contrived controversy’s arrival is more than a little suspect. The flag was reportedly displayed on Alito’s property last summer, and media outlets are only now reporting on it. The Appeal to Heaven flag has been widely uncontroversial until recently, as legacy media outlets have been associating it with January 6. Now, it’s open season on any conservative leader who has ever displayed the flag, including House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.). There have been calls for Alito to recuse himself from an upcoming Supreme Court case regarding January 6 — based almost entirely on the sighting of the Appeal to Heaven flag at his vacation home. Justice Clarence Thomas has also been called upon to recuse himself from cases relating to January 6.

A handful of people at the Capitol on January 6 reportedly carried the Appeal to Heaven flag, but the actions of a few does not redefine the flag’s history or the meaning it has had for centuries. Also called a Pine Tree flag, it features a bright green pine tree on a white background with the words “An Appeal to Heaven” or, less commonly, “An Appeal to God.” General George Washington commissioned the flag in 1775, and it was designed by his personal secretary, Joseph Reed. The flag was inspired by these words from English philosopher John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government: “And where the Body of the People, or any single Man, is deprived of their Right, or is under the Exercise of a power without right, and have no Appeal on Earth, then they have a liberty to appeal to Heaven, whenever they judge the Cause of sufficient moment.”

Contrary to what some have suggested, the Appeal to Heaven flag is not a symbol of “Christian nationalism.” The words “appeal to Heaven” in context are part of Locke’s argument against the divine right of kings. The phrase is not necessarily a call to revolution; it is reassurance that when justice is denied in the court of law and the people have no earthly means of recourse, they can appeal to heaven.

Far from being an aggressive, defamatory, or “provocative” symbol, there is a certain humility about the Appeal to Heaven flag. It might have been the symbol of the American War for Independence, but it also reflected an admission that help from Divine Providence was essential for those efforts to be successful. It brings to mind the words of Psalm 121:1-2: “I will raise my eyes to the mountains; From where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth” (NASB). The Declaration of Independence echoes these sentiments in its closing paragraph: “We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions … with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence[.]”

Flying an Appeal to Heaven flag in no way discredits Alito’s ability to judge fairly in any court case. Most Americans who display that flag now do so not as part of some plot to overthrow American election results. Rather, they display it out of acknowledgment of our need to look to God for provision and guidance. Former Vice President Mike Pence defended the flag on X (formerly Twitter), stating, “The controversy over Justice Alito flying the ‘Appeal to Heaven’ flag is absurd and anti-historical.” He argued, “The ‘Appeal to Heaven’ flag is part of our proud heritage of Faith and Freedom and every American should be proud to fly it.”

Perhaps it is time to bring the Appeal to Heaven flag back into fashion. In some ways, we can relate to our Founders, who faced nearly insurmountable situations and feared for the future of their society. This flag commissioned by George Washington reminded patriot soldiers that their hope, like ours, ultimately rested in God. The best thing we can do is appeal to heaven through prayer. So, let us pray for our country, and maybe hang a Pine Tree flag to remind us to do so.

Arielle Del Turco is Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, and co-author of “Heroic Faith: Hope Amid Global Persecution.”

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