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Why Samuel Alito’s Christian Nationalist Flag Matters

The viral flag is a symbol of the ideology that pervades his judicial opinions. If we want to protect our democracy and freedoms, we must fight to separate church and state.

Americans should be shocked that the “Appeal to Heaven” flag was displayed at the vacation home of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. This flag is associated with the Christian nationalism movement, which calls for a Christian theocratic nation to replace our democracy, and the flag is a visual confirmation of this agenda pervading Alito’s judicial opinions.

The black-lettered “Appeal to Heaven” flag featuring a green pine tree centered on a white background was first flown in the Revolutionary War as a symbol of rebellion. In more recent years, it was co-opted as a symbol by white Christian nationalists who wrongly believe that the United States was founded as, and must remain, a Christian nation. In the face of cultural and demographic changes, Christian nationalists are raging at what they perceive as the decline of their power and privilege. We saw this rage on January 6, 2021, when insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol—many of them waving the “Appeal to Heaven” flag. 

U.S. Representative Mike Johnson, Republican of Louisiana, displayed the flag outside his office after he was elevated to Speaker of the House last fall. U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, is now displaying it outside his office, and Pennsylvania state Senator and failed gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano has also flown the flag. Even Leonard Leo, the key architect of the hostile takeover of the Supreme Court, has hoisted the flag. And now we’ve learned the Alito home was flying the flag around the same time a case involving the January 6 insurrection arrived at the Supreme Court.

A quick review of Alito’s opinions, particularly over the last decade, confirms this is just the latest sign of his commitment to advancing Christian nationalism. He has repeatedly wielded his power as a Supreme Court justice to achieve Christian nationalist goals—gutting abortion rights and rolling back access to contraception, limiting LGBTQ+ rights, imposing Christianity on public school students and taxpayers, and devastating our Constitution’s promise of church-state separation.

READ: Red Flags Over the Supreme Court

In 2022, Alito authored the opinion that abolished the nationwide right to abortion, allowing nearly half of U.S. states to ban abortion as lawmakers impose their narrow religious beliefs on everyone. He wrote in the opinion that abortion is a “moral” decision—one that he and the rest of the conservative justices should have left to individuals to make based on their own beliefs about what’s best for their own bodies. Alito imposing his personal morality on all of us is the opposite of religious freedom. 

A decade ago, Alito authored the opinion that targeted contraceptive access for thousands of employees in the Hobby Lobby empire, subjugating those rights in favor of the religious beliefs of the Greens, the craft store chain’s conservative Christian founders.

As recently as February 2024, Alito reminded his colleagues once again that he opposed the Court’s landmark 2015 marriage equality decision, in part over his fears that people with anti-LGBTQ+ religious views would be “labeled as bigots.” 

Alito blatantly ignored the separation of church and state in 2022 when he joined the majority in adopting what a federal judge dubbed a “deceitful narrative” to allow a public high school football coach’s prayers with students at football games (my organization, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, represented the Bremerton School District in this case.)

In opinion after opinion, speech after speech, and now in two ethics scandals involving flags, Alito has shown us his Christian nationalist colors. Legal scholars are rightly voicing concerns over how Alito’s flag displays may violate judicial ethics and questioning whether he should recuse himself from cases related to the January 6 insurrection. 

READ: Former Terrorism Official Exposes Threat of Christian Extremism

The silver lining here is that Alito’s display of the “Appeal to Heaven” flag shines a light on the threat and pervasiveness of Christian nationalism, the endpoint of which is nothing less than the toppling of our democracy. Make no mistake: Christian nationalists are making inroads into the government. In order to protect our country and everyone’s freedom to live as themselves and believe as they choose, we must recommit ourselves as a nation to the separation of church and state.

This column was produced for Progressive Perspectives, a project of The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.

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Picture of Rachel Laser

Rachel Laser

Rachel Laser is the president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

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