Christian flag in battle of speech flies, briefly, over Boston

-Christian-Flag-Boston (Copyright - 2022 Boston Herald, MediaNews)

-Christian-Flag-Boston (Copyright – 2022 Boston Herald, MediaNews)

The Christian flag that became the focus of a legal battle over free speech that went all the way to the Supreme Court was raised – briefly – outside Boston City Hall on Wednesday to cheers and songs of praise.

The flag raising took place about three months after the Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that the city discriminated against Harold Shurtleff and his Camp Constitution group because of his “religious viewpoint” when it denied him flying the banner at City Hall Plaza on Constitution Day 2017.

“We’re so excited for this day,” Shurtleff, a Boston native, said at a ceremony to raise the white flag, which has a red cross on a blue background in the upper left corner.

“We have a great Constitution and we have a wonderful First Amendment, but just like any muscle, if you don’t use it, it gets weak,” he said. “When I got the rejection email from the city, and it said separation of church and state, I knew we had a case.”

There are three flagpoles outside City Hall that fly the flags of the United States, Massachusetts and Boston. The city flag is sometimes taken down and temporarily replaced with another.

Between 2005 and 2017, the city approved 284 consecutive applications to fly the flag, with no denials, before rejecting Shurtleff’s proposal, according to Liberty Counsel, which represented Shurtleff.

The only reason it was rejected was because the word “Christian” was on his application, and he was told to replace the word if he wanted approval, Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel’s founder and chairman, said Wednesday.

City Hall Plaza “is for people to be able to represent their views and perspectives without the government telling them they can’t,” said Jonathan Alexandre, Liberty Counsel’s senior counsel for government affairs. “And if they open it to one group, they have to open it to all other groups.”

The flag was up for about two hours Wednesday before Camp Constitution took it down, both the city and Liberty Counsel confirmed.

The Supreme Court case revolved around whether the flag-raising was an act by the government or private parties.

“Boston did not make the raising and waving of flags by private groups a form of government speech,” the court wrote in the ruling. “That again means that Boston’s refusal to allow Shurtleff and Camp Constitution to raise their flag based on its flag. religious viewpoint” curtailed their First Amendment free speech rights.

The city had no written guidelines or clear internal guidelines on flag raising, Liberty Counsel said.

That may soon change. Three city council members, with support from Mayor Michelle Wu, filed an ordinance Tuesday to update the flag-raising process.

“Under the new process, a city council resolution or mayoral declaration will be required for a flag to be raised,” they said in a statement. “The proposed ordinance would allow the city to continue to celebrate the flag raisings while complying with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on the city’s earlier process, which clarified the affirmative role required of the city council to maintain the flagpole as a place to express the city’s values ​​and ideals.”

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