Boston has a program that allows groups and individuals to raise their own flags on city poles, after they obtain permission, “for purposes of expression” and to communicate “messages chosen by the individuals or organizations.”
So a multitude of flags have waved in Boston’s skies, including the Bunker Hill banner and the flags of Albania, Ethiopia, Puerto Rico, Mexico, China, Cuba, Brazil, Peru, Panama, Italy and others countries.
But what the city doesn’t allow is the Christian flag, the white banner with the cross on a blue field.
And that, Liberty Counsel contends, is illegal.
So the legal team has filed a lawsuit to challenge the city’s practice.
That officials discriminate against some flags of faith isn’t in dispute.
Defendant Greg Rooney, commissioner of the city’s property management department, wrote to Boston resident Hal Shurtleff and his Camp Constitution to explain why the city rejected his request to fly the Christian flag.
Rooney said the city of Boston “maintains a policy and practice of respectfully refraining from flying non-secular flags on the City Hall flagpoles.”
“According to the above policy and practice, the City of Boston has respectfully denied the request of Camp Constitution to fly on a City Hall flagpole the ‘Christian’ flag, as it is identified in the request, which displays a red Latin cross against a blue square bordered on three sides by a white field. … The City would be willing to consider a request to fly a non-religious flag, should your organization elect to offer one.”
That’s even though the city routinely extends to civic and cultural organizations the permission to raise their flags on city hall flagpoles to commemorate their events.
Explained Liberty Counsel: “The city’s denial is unconstitutional because its past and current written policy and practice (and permit application) provides that Boston City Hall flagpoles are available for privately-selected flags to be flown upon request of virtually any private association or activity.
“Previously allowed flag-raising events include ethnic and other ‘cultural celebrations,’ corresponding with the raising of the flags of various countries or causes, and announcements of the same on the CityHallPlazaBoston.com website. Approved flags flown at such events include those of Albania, Brazil, Ethiopia, Italy, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, as well as of Communist China and Cuba. The flag of the private ‘Chinese Progressive Association’ has been raised. The ‘Juneteenth’ flag has been raised by the private National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. A rainbow flag has been raised by the private organization Boston Pride. Even a ‘transgender’ pink and blue flag has been raised. Since these have all been allowed, the city cannot deny Camp Constitution’s permit request to fly the Christian flag,” the Liberty Counsel statement said.
Shurtleff is seeking a ruling that requires the city to allow the Christian flag to fly.
“Government officials cannot single out a religious viewpoint for disfavored treatment to a public forum that is open to non-religious viewpoints,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel.
“The First Amendment protects the religious expression of all, and it prohibits the open hostility to religious viewpoints. The Massachusetts Constitution recognizes that ‘the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality,’ and the Boston City Flag, flying on the same flagpoles denied to Camp Constitution, includes the Latin inscription, ‘God be with us as he was with our fathers.’ The city’s censoring of religious viewpoints is not only unconstitutional, but also violates the historical and deeply held values of Boston, the Commonwealth, and the country,” said Staver.
The complaint cites violations of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, equal protection under the U.S. Constitution and numerous violations of the state Declaration of Rights.
Camp Constitution, founded in 2009, it offers classes and workshops on subjects including U.S. history, the Constitution and current events.
The filing explains that Shurtleff had been able to obtain permission to fly his flag.