With the U.S. Supreme Court set to rule this term on high-profile cases dealing with abortion and religious discrimination, a Boston case has attracted less attention but could have important ramifications for religious liberty.
Shurtleff v. Boston concerns a flagpole at Boston City Hall that is available to temporarily display the flags of many organizations, cultures and countries. The city’s website says the purpose is “to foster diversity and build and strengthen connections among Boston’s many communities.” Between 2005 and 2017, the flagpole was used to display 284 flags, including LGBTQ pride flags and the flag of Turkey, which has Islamic imagery.
But when the Christian organization Camp Constitution applied to raise the Christian flag on the pole, the city denied the request.
According to the law firm Liberty Counsel, which is representing Camp Constitution, a city official testified under oath that Camp Constitution’s flag would have been approved if the application did not refer to the flag as “Christian.”
Lower courts sided with the city, ruling that the flags constitute government speech, not private speech, that an observer would likely attribute the flag’s message to the city, and that the city can choose which views it wants to express.
“We look forward to the U.S. Supreme Court hearing Boston’s unconstitutional discrimination against Camp Constitution’s Christian viewpoint,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. “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.”
Photo: Erik Lattwein/Alamy Stock Photo