Boston City Hall flies religious flag following Supreme Court ruling

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The Christian flag that has become the center of a free speech legal battle that has gone all the way to the Supreme Court was hoisted – briefly – in front of Boston City Hall on Wednesday to cheers and shouts. songs of praise.

The flag raising took place about three months after the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the city had discriminated against Harold Shurtleff and his group Camp Constitution because of his “point religious view” when she denied him permission to fly the banner in City Hall Plaza on Constitution Day 2017.

“We are so happy for this day,” Shurtleff, a Boston native, said during 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 with muscles, if you don’t use them they get weak,” he said. “When I got the denial email from the city, and it said separation of church and state, I knew we had a case.”

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

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

The only reason he was turned down was because the word “Christian” was on his application, and he was told to substitute the word if he wanted approval, Liberty Counsel founder and president Mat Staver said Wednesday. .

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

The flag was raised for about two hours on Wednesday before Camp Constitution removed it, the city and Liberty Counsel confirmed.

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The Christian flag that became the center of a legal battle over free speech that went all the way to the Supreme Court was briefly hoisted in front of Boston City Hall on Wednesday to cheers and chants of praise.
(Stuart Cahill/The Boston Herald via AP)

The Supreme Court case focused on whether the flag raisings were an act of government or private parties.

“Boston did not make the raising and waving of private group flags a form of government speech,” the court wrote in the ruling. “That, in turn, means Boston’s refusal to let Shurtleff and Camp Constitution raise their flag based on his religious views” has curtailed their First Amendment free speech rights.

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

That could soon change. Three city councilors, with the support of Mayor Michelle Wu, filed an order on Tuesday to update the flag-raising process.

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“Under the new process, a resolution from city council or a proclamation from the mayor will be required for a flag to be raised,” they said in a statement. “The proposed ordinance will allow the city to continue celebrating the flag raising while complying with the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the city’s previous process, which clarified the required affirmative role of government of the city to maintain the flagpole as a site of expression of the values ​​and ideals of the city.”

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