During the first week of the legislative session, Secular AZ learned that a Christian nationalist Appeal to Heaven flag is being hanged in a public area of the State House building. The Pine Tree Flag dates back to the American Revolution. Colonists disobeyed orders disallowing the cultivation of pine trees, which Britain wanted for the construction of their navy fleet. The tensions exploded into what is known as the Pine Tree Riot, in which 20 men tortured a British official and maimed his horse. The flag became a symbol of independence.
Now a Christian nationalist movement, the purpose of Appeal to Heaven is “to honor the Lord by networking elected officials 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, constitutional and Federalist principles.”
Such an outwardly unconstitutional end stands in stark contrast to the established duties of a secular bicameral legislature. Once again, the Establishment Clause is rendered moot despite its critical role in maintaining justice in a liberal democracy. Unchecked religious nationalism breeds factionalism.
This specific check and balance aims to ensure that the religious freedom of no American is violated. Rather than declare a government establishment of religion, the founders did the opposite, so that they can hold dear their religious—or nonreligious—beliefs freely in public without the threat of censorship.
Despite the letter Secular AZ sent to House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R-25) petitioning for the removal of the flag, no response was rendered. Democratic leadership has not responded either.
The Supreme Court has firmly established precedent upholding the constitutional separation of church and state. In McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky, the Court outlawed the display of the Ten Commandments on the walls of two county courthouses. Even if the newly installed Supreme Court is skeptical about constitutional church-state separations, the justices have historically ruled case-by-case.
Party leadership, then, cannot overlook these unique circumstances. During the January 6th Insurrection—the deadliest attack on American democracy since British troops burned the Capitol in 1814—seditionists hailed the Pine Tree Flag, linking Christian nationalism with domestic terrorism in plain sight.
On the Opening Day of the Fifty-fifth Legislature, Bowers told the representatives that character matters. He now has an opportunity to sow unity in a time of great and derisive division by crystallizing the founding promise of religious freedom and adhering to Constitutional mandates.
Homeland security threats are no longer foreign. They are domestic. Abraham Lincoln had to contend with slave owners who valued ownership more than their citizenship and loyalty to the Union. Rather than remain silent, he personally shaped the moral and political character of the nation and reminded Americans of the universal rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. Acts of treason against the government cannot be met with ignorance. This moment in history demands that ordinary people demonstrate extraordinary acts of leadership.
Call your state legislators and express your concern over this unnecessary and unacceptable breach of secular government at the State’s Capitol. If you do not know your state representatives, you can find them here.
Christian nationalism threatens to overthrow individual rights and infect our great democratic republic with tyranny. Enshrining a horrific symbol of rebellion and unlawfulness contradicts the promise of a nation established upon the self-evident truths of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These next weeks at the legislature will be brutal, so please perform your civic duty and fight for love in the presence of hate.
[This article was originally published in the Secular AZ Blog.]