San Francisco officials take down 'Appeal to Heaven' flag from in front of City Hall

The "Appeal to Heaven" flag had flown in the city's Civic Center since 1964.

May 30, 2024, 2:27 PM

A historic flag that has flown in front of San Francisco City Hall for 60 years symbolizing America's quest for independence has been taken down about a month before Independence Day after city leaders said it had become co-opted by far-right groups that don't "represent the city's values."

The "Appeal to Heaven" flag, first raised at the San Francisco Civic Center on Flag Day in 1964, was quietly replaced over the weekend with an American star-spangled banner.

"This flag was originally used during the American Revolutionary War, flown by George Washington's cruisers, and is associated with the early quest for American independence. It's since been adopted by a different group -- one that doesn't represent the city's values, so we made the decision to swap it with the American flag," Daniel Montes, a spokesperson for San Francisco Recreation and Parks, told ABC News station KGO-TV in San Francisco.

People carry an "Appeal To Heaven" flag as they gather at Independence Mall to support President Donald Trump during a visit to the National Constitution Center to participate in the ABC News town hall, Sept. 15, 2020, in Philadelphia.
Michael Perez/AP, FILE

On Jan. 6, 2022, videos and photos showed some supporters of former President Donald Trump waving the "Appeal to Heaven" flag, which features a pine tree on a white field, during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Rioters also waved inverted American flags and at least one carried a Confederate flag during the Capitol Building attack.

Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has come under scrutiny after the New York Times obtained images of an "Appeal to Heaven" flag displayed outside his New Jersey vacation home on different days in July and September 2023. The Times also obtained images of an upside-down American flag, traditionally a sign of distress, outside Alito's home in Alexandria, Virginia, following the Jan. 6 insurrection.

An Appeal To Heaven flag, center left, is pictured as people attend a rally in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021, in support of President Donald Trump.
Carolyn Kaster/AP, FILE

Alito this week rejected demands from Democrats that he recuse himself from cases before the Supreme Court related to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and the 2020 election. In a letter to lawmakers, Alito said the flag incidents were not in any way his doing. He revealed the upside-down American flag was raised by his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, during a "nasty neighborhood dispute" and that he told her to take it down, but she refused for several days.

"My wife is fond of flying flags. I am not," Alito wrote. "My wife was solely responsible for having flagpoles put up at our residence and our vacation home and has flown a wide variety of flags over the years."

Alito said neither he nor his wife were aware of the "Appeal to Heaven" flag's connection to the "Stop the Steal Movement."

"She did not fly it to associate herself with that or any other group, and the use of an old historic flag by a new group does not necessarily drain that flag of all other meanings," Alito wrote in the letter.

Alito said his wife is an "independently minded private citizen" with First Amendment rights like "every other American."

Alito's letter to lawmakers was in response to a request made to Chief Justice John Roberts from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, for Alito to recuse himself from such cases stemming from the Jan. 6 insurrection and the 2020 presidential election.

"Justice Alito’s response clearly demonstrates why the Supreme Court needs an enforceable code of conduct," Durbin said in a statement responding to Alito's letter. "The Committee has been conducting a thorough investigation into years of ethical lapses by some justices on the Supreme Court -- and the Committee has been reviewing the latest reporting on Justice Alito as part of this ongoing investigation. Flying the American flag upside down at his home is a signal of defiance, which raises reasonable questions about bias and fairness in cases pending before the Court."

Durbin added, "At the end of the day, the Chief Justice can end this spiraling decline in America’s confidence in our highest Court by taking decisive action to establish a credible code of conduct. I will continue to pursue what the American people are demanding: accountability, transparency, and an enforceable code of conduct for Supreme Court justices."

Whitehouse also released a statement in response to Alito's letter, saying, "Justice Alito’s story conflicts with the accounts of other people involved, and the Supreme Court -- uniquely in all of government -- has no mechanism for getting to the truth."

Whitehouse called on Congress to pass his Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act, which would require Supreme Court justices to adopt a binding code of conduct, create a mechanism to investigate alleged violations of the code of conduct and other laws and improve the transparency of the high court.

Roberts sent a letter on Thursday to Durbin and Whitehouse, declining an invitation to meet with them, citing "separation of powers concerns" and the importance of preserving judicial independence.

"In regard to questions concerning any Justice's participation in pending cases, the Members of the Supreme Court recently reaffirmed the practice we have followed for 235 years pursuant to which individual Justices decide recusal issues," Roberts wrote.

Ted Kaye, secretary for the North American Vexillological Association, which studies flags and their meaning, told KGO-TV that the "Appeal to Heaven" flag dates to the Revolutionary War and that before the Capitol insurrection, it was known as a symbol of America's quest for independence.

In 1775, George Washington sent six schooners under his command and flying the "Appeal to Heaven" flag to intercept British ships, Kaye said.

According to, the "Appeal to Heaven" flag, also known as the "Pine Tree Flag," has traditionally symbolized strength and resilience in the New England colonies, while the words on the banner stem from the belief that God would deliver the colonists from tyranny.