A lawsuit by a Christian organization seeking to fly its flag at Boston’s city hall, as other groups are allowed, is going forward.
That’s after U.S. District Judge Denise Casper ruled this week the city presented insufficient evidence to make an immediate judgment.
They city banned an organization called Camp Constitution from participating in the program, to which dozens of other groups, including some foreign interests, have been granted access.
The program allows a private flag to be flown over city hall for a short period.
Casper’s ruling was in response to the city’s petition that she rule in the city’s favor without a trial.
She said that won’t happen because the record was insufficient to determine important questions such as whether or not the First Amendment protects the group’s right to fly its flag.
The group alleges that the city’s policy against non-secular flags violates the equal protection clause because it discriminates against speech based on its content – namely, against religious speech – the judge explained.
The camp also alleges the city’s rule against religious flags violates the Establishment Clause and free speech protections.
“At this stage of the litigation, the court cannot determine whether exclusion of the Christian flag is reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum. Here, the city’s written policies about the flagpole do not include any provisions about non-secular flags, nor to they provide insight into the city’s purpose in controlling the flags that may be flown,” she wrote.
“The city is not entitled to judgment at this stage.”
The Baptist Joint Committee said the city had asked for summary judgment in the case.
“At issue is the city’s practice of allowing third-party groups to request that their flag temporarily fly on a flag pole alongside the American and Massachusetts state flags outside Boston’s City Hall. The requests are typically made in conjunction with an organization’s event on city property or the visit of a dignitary of another country. But the city’s mayor, citing concerns of church-state separation, refused a request from Camp Constitution, a Christian organization seeking to mark its celebration of Constitution Day in the city by hoisting the Christian flag,” the report said.
It is actually one of two court hearings this week in the case. Separately, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was considering whether the camp is entitled to have a preliminary injunction that would allow its flag to be flown while the case proceeds.
The court filings have noted that the city already has allowed flags from Brazil, Ethiopia, Portugal, Puerto Rico, the People’s Republic of China and Cuba. Flags also have been flown commemorating Juneteenth and LGBT and transgender rights.
The city’s guidelines allow the city to deny a request if an event includes illegal or dangerous activities, but there has been no such allegation against Camp Constitution.
The city has admitted in court it makes decisions based on whether its officials like the “message.”