Church Militant (CM), a conservative organization that operates a news website, is demanding that the Ferndale City Council allow a religious flag to be flown outside Ferndale City Hall during Pride Month. The group is accusing the Council of anti-Catholic discrimination, though it is not affiliated with the local Catholic Archdiocese or any other.
CM is registered as a 501(c)4 corporation. They are not a church and have no meeting place in the city. Further, CM has long been forbidden by the Archdiocese of Detroit from portraying itself as an official Catholic organization or, for that matter, even using the word Catholic to promote its activities. A letter from the Archdiocese to the group can still be found online.
“They are not a church,” said Oscar N. Renautt, a Ferndale resident. “They don't have a parish, there are no priests, there are no services. They have 501(c)4 status which is not a non-profit classification for churches.”
Despite this, several individuals connected to CM spoke out at the city council meeting alleging they had been discriminated against by the city for their anti-gay views. For what their website says was the third time, members asked the council to fly the Sacred Heart flag in June. June is, of course, Pride Month and the city traditionally flies the LGBTQ+ Pride flag during that time.
According to Angelus Press, which bills itself as the premier source of information on the Traditional Latin Mass and the practice of an integral Catholic Faith in today's world, the Sacred Heart flag is traditionally flown in June, which “follows the month dedicated to His Immaculate Mother, whose role ever remains to give Him to the world and lead men to the pierced side of Her divine son, in order that they be cleansed by the waters and fortified by the blood flowing therefrom.”
One CM member, who identified himself as only Jeff (no one speaking in favor of raising the Sacred Heart flag gave a last name), “implored the members to comment on the hate and discrimination coming from the ‘LGBT community against Catholics, Christians and conservatives,’” as reported by churchmilitant.com.
Renautt said that CM members know that the religious Sacred Heart flag cannot be flown in front of City Hall. “This cannot be implemented on the grounds that flying a flag on the flagpole is in fact a government speech, not private speech — and therefore the city must refuse any requests to fly non-secular flags on its flagpole,” he said.
The group has approached the council at least twice before on the issue. They use their continued rejection as a way to portray themselves as victims and drum up financial support.
“They are craving attention and [will] use any reactions from the community as justification of their martyrdom,” said Renautt.
CM points to a case in Boston, where the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Christian activist who asked that the city fly a Christian flag. But in that case, it was shown that Boston had no real criteria for flying guest flags. In fact, the city had approved 284 consecutive applications to fly flags, including those of other nations, before it turned down a Christian flag. In a unanimous ruling, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the Supreme Court last year that "the city's lack of meaningful involvement in the selection of flags or the crafting of their messages leads us to classify the flag raisings as private, not government, speech — though nothing prevents Boston from changing its policies going forward."
Here, in Ferndale, things are different, according to Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project. “The City of Boston had sponsored an open forum allowing all kinds of flags to be flown,” Kaplan explained. “This has not been the case with the City of Ferndale, which did not create this open forum.”
Kaplan added that when the government is speaking for itself, the government may decide which views it wishes to express and that “the First Amendment does not demand airtime for all views.”
Still, Renautt said he fears CM may try to launch a lawsuit against the city. That is, he said, part of the reason he is speaking out. “We must educate our community about this group and what they stand for. They are not an oppressed religious group as they are trying to portray themselves. But they are agitators, instigators, a hate group that is spewing lies. They are a religious militia promoting violence.”