Liberty Counsel filed a brief in support of its motion for summary judgement requesting the United States District Court in Boston to rule that Boston resident Hal Shurtleff and his Christian civic organization, Camp Constitution, can fly the Christian flag on Boston’s City Hall flagpoles on the same terms as other civic and cultural organizations.
The city refers to its flagpoles as “public forums” and allows private organizations to temporarily raise their own flags on the flagpoles almost once per week. However, the city censored the religious viewpoint of Camp Constitution’s flag because the city falsely claims that the flagpoles are not governed by the First Amendment because they are not compatible with private expression and the city tightly controls all flags that are raised. The undisputed record facts, however, reveal that the city’s written policies and actual practices have consistently accommodated private expression for over a decade, and that the city’s control over the private flags’ messages is minimal to nonexistent.
The city’s records show Boston has allowed more than 300 flag raisings by private organizations on the City Hall flagpoles, including 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 homosexual rainbow flag of Boston Pride, and a “transgender” pink and blue flag. The flags from other countries such as Albania, Brazil, Ethiopia, Italy, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, as well as of Communist China and Cuba have all been approved to fly on the city’s flagpoles.
The Christian flag would have been raised only during a one-hour event held by Camp Constitution on September 17 in observance of Constitution Day, to celebrate the civic and social 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, and would have included historical and contemporary presentations, such as the need for racial reconciliation through Jesus Christ.
Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The city’s blatant discrimination against Camp Constitution’s Christian viewpoint is unconstitutional censorship and an insult to the First Amendment. The city admitted in a court filing that its official policy is to make permit decisions based on whether the city approves the ‘message’ of the applicant. There is a crucial difference between government endorsement of religion and private speech, which government is bound to respect. Private religious speech in a public forum where secular viewpoints are permitted does not violate the Constitution. Censoring religious viewpoints does violate the First Amendment. Where the city of Boston allows numerous other flags from private organizations, it may not ban the Christian flag as part of a privately-sponsored event,” said Staver.