A federal judge in Massachusetts has endorsed a city of Boston program that is censoring the Christian flag because it’s “religious.”
Judge Denise Casper has ruled against a Christian’s access to a program that routinely hoists privately owned flags over a city building, concluding other other flags are acceptable because they’re not religious.
Among the approved flags are the LGBT banner the national flags of Albania, Cuba, Mexico, Brazil and China.
But Liberty Counsel said that when Hal Shurtleff and his civic group, Camp Constitution, requested to fly the Christian flag, they were refused.
The legal team explained the city’s written permit guidelines promise the public “to accommodate all applicants seeking to take advantage of the city of Boston’s public forums,” referring to the flag pole as a “public forum.”
“However, the city admitted in a court filing that government officials consider the message of the applicant and, based on that unwritten policy, will only permit non-religious messages,” Liberty Counsel said.
Liberty Counsel said it is appealing Casper’s decision, which ignored the fact that the city has called the flagpole a “public forum.”
“Today’s ruling disregards the evidence that the city of Boston treats its flagpole as a public forum for all applicants except when it comes to a religious viewpoint,” said Roger Gannam, assistant vice president of legal affairs. “The Constitution does not allow the city to treat Camp Constitution and other Christian organizations differently from all others who are allowed to raise their flags for important events.”
Casper’s immediate decision was to refuse a request for an injunction allowing Camp Constitution to participate in a city program like other groups.
Liberty Counsel said the city routinely lets civic and cultural organizations have the opportunity to raise their flags on one of the city hall flagpoles to commemorate whatever events are important to the organizations.
Casper’s opinion found the flag for the People’s Republic of China was acceptable but not the Christian flag. Also approved were the Juneteenth flag, the pink transgender flag and the pride flag.
The judge said the city’s policy made the flags “government speech.”
“The city’s policy of excluding non-secular flags is viewpoint neutral because it excludes religion as a subject matter of speech on the flagpole,” the judge said. “The city has permissibly chosen to exclude religion as a subject matter, rather than as one perspective among many on other subjects.”
Defendant Greg Rooney, commissioner of the city’s property management department, wrote to Boston resident Shurtleff and his Camp Constitution to explain why the city rejected his request to fly the Christian flag.
Rooney said the city of Boston “maintains a policy and practice of respectfully refraining from flying non-secular flags on the City Hall flagpoles.”
“According to the above policy and practice, the City of Boston has respectfully denied the request of Camp Constitution to fly on a City Hall flagpole the ‘Christian’ flag, as it is identified in the request, which displays a red Latin cross against a blue square bordered on three sides by a white field. … The City would be willing to consider a request to fly a non-religious flag, should your organization elect to offer one.”
Argued Liberty Counsel: “The city’s denial is unconstitutional because its past and current written policy and practice (and permit application) provides that Boston City Hall flagpoles are available for privately-selected flags to be flown upon request of virtually any private association or activity.
“Previously allowed flag-raising events include ethnic and other ‘cultural celebrations,’ corresponding with the raising of the flags of various countries or causes, and announcements of the same on the CityHallPlazaBoston.com website. Approved flags flown at such events include those of Albania, Brazil, Ethiopia, Italy, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, as well as of Communist China and Cuba. The flag of the private ‘Chinese Progressive Association’ has been raised. The ‘Juneteenth’ flag has been raised by the private National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. A rainbow flag has been raised by the private organization Boston Pride. Even a ‘transgender’ pink and blue flag has been raised. Since these have all been allowed, the city cannot deny Camp Constitution’s permit request to fly the Christian flag,” the Liberty Counsel statement said.
“Government officials cannot single out a religious viewpoint for disfavored treatment to a public forum that is open to non-religious viewpoints,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, when the case was filed.
“The First Amendment protects the religious expression of all, and it prohibits the open hostility to religious viewpoints. The Massachusetts Constitution recognizes that ‘the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality,’ and the Boston City Flag, flying on the same flagpoles denied to Camp Constitution, includes the Latin inscription, ‘God be with us as he was with our fathers.’ The city’s censoring of religious viewpoints is not only unconstitutional, but also violates the historical and deeply held values of Boston, the Commonwealth, and the country,” said Staver.