BOSTON — A Boston-based group that sought to fly the Christian flag outside city hall during an event celebrating the religious history of the city and the contributions made by Christians has again filed a lawsuit against officials for denying their request.
Camp Constitution says that the City of Boston approved 284 other temporary flags, including the Vatican flag, the Portuguese flag (which uses religious imagery), and the Turkish flag (which depicts the Islamic star and crescent), and therefore, it is being unfairly discriminated against.
“As the undisputed facts in this matter also show, the City has treated Camp Constitution’s religious speech and flag differently than other flags containing religious imagery,” the lawsuit states. “The City of Boston flag, which is typically flown on City Hall flag poles when a substitute is not raised, contains the words “Sicut patribus, sit Deus nobis,” which means ‘God be with us as He was with our fathers.'”
Camp Constitution sought to host an event in September 2017 in front of city hall, which would include short speeches by local pastors outlining the religious history of the city of Boston. September 17 is recognized as “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day” by federal statute, and citizens have been approved to fly flags during their events on numerous occasions.
However, when director Hal Shurtleff applied to fly the Christian flag on the pole through the duration of the event, his request was denied. Gregory Rooney, the commissioner of the Property Management Department, advised in writing that “[t]he City of Boston maintains a policy and practice of respectfully refraining from flying non-secular flags on the city hall flagpoles.”
He said that the City’s policy was based on the First Amendment’s “establishment of religion” clause, and outlined that he would consider a request to fly a non-religious flag, which Shurtleff declined.
According to the Camp Constitution website, the group exists “to enhance understanding of our Judeo-Christian moral heritage, our American heritage of courage and ingenuity, including the genius of our United States Constitution, and the application of free enterprise, which together gave our nation an unprecedented history of growth and prosperity, making us the envy of the world.”
Camp Constitution consequently obtained legal representation, which wrote to the City to contend that the denial was unconstitutional. It soon also filed suit, noting that other flags that were approved to be flown include the rainbow flag for homosexual Pride Month, as well as a blue, pink and white flag to recognize those who identify as transgender.
“Proud to fly the #TransFlag over Boston City Hall for the 1st time in MA history — a sign that everyone is welcome,” Mayor Marty Walsh tweeted in 2016.
A federal judge ruled against Camp Constitution in August, as did an appeals court, and now the group has filed suit again to notate additional information to prove unfair treatment. The group was denied its request to fly the flag a second time in 2018.
“[T]he City cannot contend (nor has it) that Boston endorses the religion of Islam when it allows a Turkish flag on the City Hall flag poles (as it has done at least thirteen times), displaying the overtly and readily identifiable Islamic star and crescent of the Ottoman Empire, just as it did not endorse the Catholic Church when it allowed the Vatican flag to be raised on a City-owned flag pole,” its legal challenge states.
“Thus, approving Camp Constitution’s Christian flag as flag number 285 could not reasonably have been viewed as Boston’s endorsement of Christianity.”
The organization is being represented by the religious liberties legal group Liberty Counsel.
“Boston city officials may not ban the Christian flag as part of a privately-sponsored event when they allow any other flag by numerous private organizations. It’s time for the court to stop the city’s unconstitutional censorship,” said founder Mat Staver in a statement.