In an opinion article for conservative website Breitbart, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin argued in favor of the Appeal to Heaven flag. The piece comes after the Freedom From Religion Foundation successfully urged Arkansas' Bradley County Courthouse to remove the flag.
The Appeal to Heaven flag, also called the Pine Tree Flag, originally flew under the command of Gen. George Washington in 1775. The pine tree had been a symbol of New England, and “Appeal to Heaven” referred to an argument by British philosopher John Lock against the divine rights of kings.
But FFRF says today the flag is associated with the conservative Appeal to Heaven movement. In a letter to Judge Keith Neely of the Bradley County Courthouse, FFRF wrote that “Members of the Appeal to Heaven movement, in their own words, ‘honor the Lord by supporting candidates for public office who are believers in Jesus Christ, who regularly attend and display a commitment to an evangelical, Gospel-centered church and who will commit to live and govern based on biblical … principals.’ The mission is clearly sectarian, and flying the flag is a tacit endorsement of evangelical Christianity.”
FFRF said the flag, which depicts a pine tree and reads, “Appeal to Heaven,” constituted a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which mandates a separation of church and state by prohibiting government endorsement of religion.
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“While the flag has ties to the founding of the U.S., it is now viewed as a Christian flag,” the letter stated. “The display of the patently religious symbol on County property confers government endorsement of Christianity, a blatant violation of the Establishment Clause."
The courthouse has since removed the flag out of fear of costly litigation. Sarah Palin is encouraging people to “Get behind Judge Neely and the good folks in Bradley County who want to Appeal to Heaven for our Nation.”
“In Bradley County, the ATH flag has flown over the courthouse, until the Freedom from Religion Foundation — a group that spends its funds suing municipalities who don’t see as they do — demanded Judge Keith Neely take down the flag or be sued,” Palin wrote.
FFRF states its mission is to "protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state."
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Palin was presented with the flag by Pastor Dutch and Ceci Sheets. She said it stirred her heart and that it would stir millions more once the flag’s significance is understood.
“Washington knew the colonies needed God’s intervention as they battled for freedom — they had no recourse but to call on God. The appeal to heaven ultimately granted America freedom,” Palin wrote in her article for Breitbart.
“The patriots of old knew America’s hope for freedom was rooted in God. And unlike any other the idea of ‘America’ would be exceptional in that we would dedicate to God this land overflowing with the blessings of liberty,” she said.
Palin concluded by writing that the attack on the flag is symbolic and symptomatic of the precarious position they are in when it comes to religious liberty.
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