Boston's censorship of Christian flag reaches Supremes

Boston, Massachusetts

Officials in Boston have designated one of the flagpoles outside their city hall as a public forum, and they have approved hundreds of private flags, from pride-themed, to religious to those representing foreign nations, to fly there ceremonially.

But when a local organization, Camp Constitution, requested permission to fly a Christian flag, officials refused.

And they claimed their rules didn’t allow Christian flags to be flown.

Officials from Camp Constitution were joined by the legal team at Liberty Counsel in protesting the city’s agenda, and now that fight is being presented to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Liberty Counsel said on Monday it has filed a petition to the court on behalf of Boston resident Hal Shurtleff and his Camp Constitution, arguing the city violated the First Amendment by censoring a private flag in a public forum “merely because the application form referred to the flag as a ‘Christian flag.'”

The filing contends: “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.”

According to Liberty Counsel, “Despite the clear evidence presented at trial, the First Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the city of Boston’s censorship of the Christian viewpoint on the public forum, a place designated as a ‘public forum’ by Boston’s written policy and confirmed by its unbroken practice during which it never censored private speech – until Camp Constitution’s application. The Court of Appeals expanded the government speech cases far beyond Supreme Court precedent.”

The flag in dispute is white with a blue square that includes a red cross. It has no writing.

“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. This testimony showed that if Camp Constitution had not referred it the flag on the application with the word ‘Christian,’ it would not have been censored,” the legal team explained.

But Boston calls its own flagpole a “public forum” and allows private groups to briefly raise their own flags on the flagpole. The city of Boston’s website even states the goals for flag raising events include, ‘We commemorate flags from many countries and communities at Boston City Hall Plaza. We want to create an environment in the city where everyone feels included.'”

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

That’s despite the fact the city has allowed the Turkish flag, which includes the Islamic star and crescent, the Portuguese flag and its religious imagery, message flags including pride and transgender agendas, as well as the flags of Communist China, Cuba, Albania, Brazil, Ethiopia, Italy, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

The lower court allowed the city’s censorship even though the city itself calls the flagpole a public forum.

Liberty Counsel’s chairman, Mat Staver, said, “We look forward to the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledging the city’s obvious and unconstitutional discrimination against Camp Constitution’s Christian viewpoint. 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 must stop.”

He has explained there’s a difference between government endorsement of religion and private speech, which is what the flag is, and what the 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,” he has said.

The filing charged, “Even if the city’s exclusion of Camp Constitution’s flag from the designated flag poles forum was not viewpoint discriminatory (which it was), the city’s restriction of Camp Constitution’s religious speech was content based.”

The Supreme Court previously has ruled that laws targeting speech on its content “are presumptively unconstitutional.”

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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