Liberty Counsel filed the reply brief to the First Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Boston resident Hal Shurtleff and his Christian civic organization, Camp Constitution, arguing that the city of Boston violated the First Amendment by censoring a private flag in a public forum merely because it contained a cross.
The city refers to its flagpole as a “public forum” and allows private organizations to temporarily raise their own flags on the flagpoles. However, the city censored the religious viewpoint of Camp Constitution’s flag, which was to be raised for about an hour on September 17 in observance of Constitution Day, while supporters gathered around the flagpole. The flag was part of the ceremony to honor the Constitution and recognize the Christian Founders.
Never has Boston censored any flag until the Christian flag, which is white with a blue square in the upper corner and a red cross. The flag contains no writing. Under oath, the city official said the flag would have been approved if the application did not refer to it as a “Christian flag.” The word “Christian” triggered the censorship. The official said he had never heard of a “Christian flag” until Camp Constitution’s application.
A lower court federal judge previously sided with the city of Boston’s censorship of the Christian viewpoint on the public forum which the city designated as private speech. Liberty Counsel immediately filed an appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals..
Shurtleff and Camp Constitution first asked the city in 2017 for a permit to raise the Christian flag on Boston City Hall flagpoles to commemorate Constitution Day (September 17) and the civic and cultural contributions of the Christian community to the city of Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, religious tolerance, the Rule of Law, and the U.S. Constitution.
The city’s records show Boston has allowed at least 284 applications by private organizations on the city hall flagpoles without denial except for the Christian flag. Other flags raised include the Turkish flag (which depicts the Islamic star and crescent) and the Portuguese flag (which uses religious imagery). City officials have also never denied the “messages” communicated by the “Chinese Progressive Association,” the rainbow flag of Boston Pride, and a “transgender” pink and blue flag. The flags of private community groups include Albania, Brazil, Ethiopia, Italy, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, as well as of Communist China and Cuba. No flag was ever denied until the city denied the flag of Camp Constitution.
Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The city’s discrimination against Camp Constitution’s Christian viewpoint is both obvious and unconstitutional. There is a crucial difference between government endorsement of religion and private speech, which government is bound to respect. Censoring religious viewpoints in a public forum where secular viewpoints are permitted is unconstitutional.”