Supreme Court hears case on Boston’s refusal to raise the Christian flag

by Timothy Frudd

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Shurtleff v. Boston on Tuesday, a case on religious freedom. The Supreme Court will decide whether the city of Boston violated the First Amendment by refusing a request from a private organization to raise the Christian flag in front of city hall.

Boston has three flagpoles at the entrance of city hall. One flagpole always has both the American flag and a flag honoring America’s missing soldiers and prisoners of war. A second flagpole always flies the state flag of Massachusetts. Finally, a third flagpole flies the city of Boston’s flag, however, it is also used to honor different individuals, causes, and events.

It is the third flagpole that is the center of debate in this Supreme Court case.

In 2017, the city of Boston refused to allow Camp Constitution to display a flag containing a Christian cross on the city’s third flagpole, claiming it would be unconstitutional for the city to endorse the Christian flag.

While at first glance this would not appear to be a major issue, it became one when the city of Boston was exposed for appearing to unfairly discriminate against the Christian flag. For the past 12 years, Boston Property Management Department Commissioner Gregory Rooney has approved 284 flag-raising events and only denied one request. Reportedly, the only flag that was denied during that time was the Christian flag.  

Rooney has argued that the Christian flag was denied because the city “maintains a policy and practice of respectfully refraining from flying non-secular flags.” Rooney has also argued that the city was attempting to avoid concerns about the separation of church and state by not promoting the Christian flag in front of City Hall.

However, while the Christian flag was denied by the city of Boston, the Chinese, Cuban, Juneteenth, transgender, and LGBTQ flags have each been flown. Boston appears to have inconsistent standards for flag flying, especially considering that the Christian flag is the only flag that has been denied.

The district court ultimately ruled in favor of the city of Boston, after which, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circut also affirmed the decision of the district court.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver presented oral arguments to the Supreme Court Tuesday, arguing, “After 12 years with 284 flag-raising approvals, no denials, and usually no review, one word caught the attention of a Boston official: the word ‘Christian’ on the application,” Staver told the justices.

Staver continued his arguments, explaining that the city, “expressly declared that the flagpoles are one of its public forums open to all applicants.” Staver argued that the city of Boston changed their perspective on this particular flag, saying, a “public forum open for all applicants, is really government speech.”

Before presenting oral arguments before the Supreme Court, Mat Staver stated, “I look forward to presenting oral argument to the High Court tomorrow in Shurtleff v. City of Boston. This is about much more than the Christian flag. This case will set national precedent and affect the free speech of every person. We must not give government the power to censor disfavored viewpoints in a public forum.”

The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to also hear oral arguments from attorneys of a former high school football coach who was fired for leading prayer with players in the middle of the field. Oral arguments for this case will commence on Jan. 19.

Both of these cases are fundamental to each American’s freedom of religious expression. All eyes are on the Supreme Court as they rule on Americans’ First Amendment rights that directly impact millions of Christians across the nation.

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