Liberty Counsel filed an opening 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 while Camp Constitution supporters gathered below the flag to celebrate Constitution Week. 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.
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 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.”