Fly Those Flags Upside Down

"The flying of [BLM and Pride] flags in front of a Catholic school sends a mixed, confusing and scandalous message to the public about the Church’s stance on these important moral and social issues."

There is a widely accepted convention that one should never display the flag of the United States of America upside down—it counts as an act of grave disrespect for its intended meaning.

Unless, one does so as a sign of “dire distress in instances of extreme danger,” the convention goes.

With that in mind, enter now the arena of controversy hitting Catholic media this past week regarding the decree of Bishop Robert J. McManus, leader of the diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, forbidding a private school in his diocese from identifying itself as a “Catholic” school because they refuse to stop displaying the rainbow “Pride” flag and the Black Lives Matter flag alongside the American flag at their school. 

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The Nativity School, “was established in 2003 and developed by the senior administration of the College of the Holy Cross of Worcester to address the devastating graduation rate among boys experiencing economic insecurity. It currently serves boys in grades five through eight,” according to the Bishop’s decree. 

He says he has spent months seeking a resolution to the matter, without success.

McManus says the “Pride” rainbow flag “represents support of gay marriage and actively living a LGBTQ+ lifestyle,” and the Black Lives Matter flag represents a movement that “promotes a platform that directly contradicts Catholic social teaching on the importance and role of the nuclear family and seeks to disrupt the family structure in clear opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

“The flying of these flags in front of a Catholic school sends a mixed, confusing and scandalous message to the public about the Church’s stance on these important moral and social issues,” McManus decreed. 

The Nativity School administrators responded that these flags simply state that all are welcome at Nativity and this value of inclusion is rooted in Catholic teaching.”

Of greater concern, however, is the school administrators’ contention that “[b]oth flags are now widely understood to celebrate the human dignity of our relatives, friends and neighbors who have faced, and continue to face hate and discrimination. Though any symbol or flag can be co-opted by political groups or organizations, flying our flags is not an endorsement of any organization or ideology, they fly in support of marginalized people.”

The school seems to take the view that it is up to them, not the originators of the flags themselves, to determine what the flags symbolize—and which elements of their full meaning can be disregarded and which can be affirmed.

The “logic” here is untenable. It’s akin to a group being willing to display a Nazi flag on its property, insisting that the only intended meaning there is in the original Sanskrit use of the Swastika as a symbol of “well-being.” That rationale simply won’t fly. 

Indeed, if this school insists on flying the rainbow and BLM flags right alongside the flag of the United States of America, they would do well to begin flying that American flag upside down. That would be truth in advertising, as that school is placing their young students in dire distress and extreme danger, ideologically. 

Fortunately, Bishop McManus is responding clearly and firmly, for the good of the students at Nativity School. He’s decreed that the school can no longer identify as “Catholic” or use that title; can no longer have Mass, sacraments, and sacramentals on the premises or elsewhere on diocesan property; can’t fundraise or advertise via diocesan entities; and must remove Bishop Emeritus Daniel P. Reilly’s name from its list of the Board of Trustees.

But the school—and the usual suspects in Catholic media—are pushing back against Bishop McManus. The school is seeking recourse against the decree via the means allowed under Canon Law, and it is refusing to stop flying the flags.

So, let’s offer a more complete picture of what these flags actually do represent—according to their originators. Maybe doing so can illustrate why planting and defending these flags on a Catholic hill may not be the hill Catholics want to die on.

With the Black Lives Matter flag, which features only those words in an instantly recognizable font and background, the objection is simple: The backbone of the movement is an incorporated “global foundation network” with a deeply politicized and immoral agenda that goes well beyond generic goals of “freedom, liberation, and justice.”

The BLM list of seven “demands” are through and through expressions of a deeply held, one-sided political agenda, ranging from “defund the police” to “convict Donald Trump” (inexplicably, without ever saying what they want Trump to be convicted of).

The movement’s website received enough pushback on its published beliefs that it no longer lists them as explicitly as it once did. But the organization is on record as being stridently pro-abortion and seeking to undermine the truths of human sexuality and the definition of family.

The BLM flag is not symbolic of inclusion; its intended purpose is disruption, a disruption that has in fact backfired in the riots and attacks on peaceful men and women of color, including those defending against BLM violence and protecting small businesses, including a retired police captain, David Dorn, shot to death June 2, 2020, in my hometown of St. Louis during a night of BLM looting and rioting. 

With the “Pride” rainbow flag, details of its origin are considerably more sordid.

Its originator was a San Francisco artist named Gilbert Baker, who drag-queened as “Busty Ross.” Baker says that it was none other than “gay” martyr-icon Harvey Milk (who infamously kept a 16-year-old boy as a live-in lover in the 1960s) who worked with him to create a symbol for the gay-rights movement. The flag first flew in June 1978 in San Francisco. It originally had an eight-color form according to this schema:

Hot pink = Sex
Red = Life
Orange = Healing
Yellow = Sunlight
Green = Nature
Turquoise = Magic/Art
Indigo = Serenity
Violet = Spirit

Readers may want to let it sink in that, today, the only reason there isn’t a pink stripe denoting “gay sex” in the rainbow flag is because pink fabric was in short supply, so the color was eventually dropped. (Two other colors were combined, so all six colors were widened and made visible for when the flag hung vertically.) Rainbow flags that now ubiquitously drape our Catholic altars, sanctuaries, and school flagpoles were originally configured to represent gay sex acts. 

So, when a school that aspires to be “Catholic” wants to selectively limit the “meaning” of flags to denote “inclusion” and “welcome” and “dignity,” they are merely denying the full history of the groups represented by the flags themselves. Such revisionism doesn’t exactly count as a “Catholic” value.

Are Catholics “for” inclusion, welcome, and dignity? Do “black lives matter” to Catholics? Of course. But the love that is the foundation for those values can never be divorced from the truth that is also the foundation for those values. That’s something that, thankfully, Bishop McManus of Worcester sees clearly. 

It is the vision of the school administrators and their supporters—indeed the entire culture of unreality that we as Catholics remain immersed in and infected by—that remains clouded by false ideologies which threaten to fill the futures of the young boys at Nativity School with unnecessary suffering and trauma. Catholics—and Catholic schools in particular—should be able to do better than that.

But if Nativity School continues its obstinate defiance of legitimate Church authority by flying the BLM and “Pride” flags right alongside the American flag at the school?

Then please, by all means, let them all fly upside down.

Because the school is in dire distress and the students are in extreme danger, even if they think otherwise. And while they’re at it, they may want to add a fourth flag—a white one. 

Apropos, since they’ve clearly surrendered, abandoning the very essence of what it means to be Catholic. 

[Photo Credit: Nativity School of Worcester]


  • Jim Russell

    Jim Russell lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He writes on a variety of topics related to the Catholic faith, including natural law, liturgy, theology of the body, and sexuality. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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