Supreme Court to review Boston’s censorship of Christian flag

A decision by the city of Boston to censor the Christian flag, and prevent it from being flown at a city hall flagpole used by dozens of other special interest groups, will be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Boston Herald noted that lower court judges “have sided against Hal Shurtleff and his organization Camp Constitution,” but those conclusions now will be examined again after the high court put the case on its agenda.

The Herald reported admitted, “Boston flies various flags on its third pole all the time — with the first two poles holding the American flag with the POW/MIA flag under it, and the state flag. The city will fly advocacy flags like the rainbow LGBT banner or flags of other countries — which sometimes, like when it flies the Chinese flag, draw protests.”

But the city rejected the Christian flag, white with a cross on a blue field. It also now has rejected a “straight pride” flag.

Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, which has been fighting for the Christian flag to be flown like others, said, “We look forward to the U.S. Supreme Court hearing Boston’s unconstitutional discrimination against Camp Constitution’s Christian viewpoint. The city cannot deny the Christian flag because it is ‘Christian’ and allow every other flag to fly on its flagpoles. 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 and this case will set national precedent.”

Liberty Counsel explained, “Although the city of Boston created a public forum for private speakers to temporarily raise a flag on one of its poles and never censored any of the prior 284 applications, it censored the Camp Constitution’s flag during its Constitution Day event because the application referred to it as a ‘Christian flag.’ Camp Constitution wanted to highlight the Christian Founders during the Constitution Day event. Without seeing the flag, Boston censored it solely because of the word ‘Christian’ on the application. Boston took the position that it was permitted to censor the flag because it controlled the flag poles and it was government, not private speech.”

The legal team noted, “Under oath, the city official testified the flag would have been approved if the application did not refer to it as a ‘Christian flag.’ The word ‘Christian’ on the application alone triggered the censorship. The official said he had never heard of a ‘Christian flag’ until Camp Constitution’s application. Therefore, his testimony revealed that if Camp Constitution had not referred to the flag on the application with the word ‘Christian,’ it would not have been censored.”

Also, the city itself calls its flagpole a “public forum” and allows private group to fly their own flags.

Other flags raised on the city’s flagpole 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 said.

The case contends that the city is in violation of the First Amendment with its censorship program.

The court documents explain: “The first Circuit’s government speech finding cannot be correct under this court’s precedents because (1) the city’s flag raising application form designates the flag poles as a ‘public forum’ for the private speech of ‘all applicants;’ (2) the city never censored a flag from 284 applications over 12 years prior to Camp Constitution’s application; (30 the city approved 39 flags (averaging over three per month) in the year prior to Camp Constitution’s application; and (4) the raising of other country’s flags cannot be the city’s speech because it would be a crime under state law for the city to raise another country’s flag on city hall.”

The fight dates to 2017 when the camp first made the request to fly the flag on Constitution Day – and was refused.

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