Christian Flag Raised outside Boston City Hall after Supreme Court Victory
A ceremony was held outside of Boston City Hall on Wednesday to celebrate the raising of a flag that had been previously rejected by the city simply because the word “Christian” was used to describe it.
It took five years of litigation and a 9-0 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the city in May for the Christian flag to finally be allowed to go up on the public forum flagpole of the Boston City Hall Plaza. Harry Mihet of the legal group Liberty Counsel, which engaged in the court battle against the city, said Wednesday was “a great day for the city of Boston, for the Christian community in the city of Boston, for freedom itself, and for the Constitution.”
“The raising of the Christian flag today symbolizes the fact that the Christian community, the community of faith across this whole country — they are not constitutional orphans,” said Mihet, Liberty Counsel’s vice president of Legal Affairs and chief litigation counsel, during the ceremony. “They are full heirs to the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and free exercise of religion along with every other American.”
For the past five years, Liberty Counsel represented Boston resident Hal Shurtleff and his Christian civic organization, Camp Constitution, in their case against the city. Shurtleff and Camp Constitution first asked the city in 2017 for a permit to raise the Christian flag on the “public forum” Boston City Hall flagpole to commemorate Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, as well as the civic and cultural contributions of the Christian community to the city of Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, religious tolerance, the rule of law, and the U.S. Constitution.
For 12 years, from 2005 to 2017, Boston approved 284 flag raisings by private organizations without a single denial on the flagpoles that it designated a public forum that was open to “all applicants.” However, city official denied Camp Constitution’s application in 2017 to fly its flag on Constitution Day, doing so because the flag was referred to on the application as a Christian flag.
“Every viewpoint was permissible to go on this public forum flagpole except a Christian viewpoint,” noted Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver during Wednesday’s ceremony.
Flags that have been raised over the years have included everything from a flag with the Islamic crescent and an LGBTQ pride flag to even a flag celebrating Mao Zedong’s communist revolution that resulted in the deaths of at least 40 million Chinese people.
“And the only reason why Camp Constitution’s request to fly this flag was denied was not because of the flag itself,” Staver recalled. “It was Hal Shurtleff’s view of that flag. It was because of one word in the application –– the word ‘Christian’ that preceded the word ‘flag.’”
And as Boston conceded that it denied Shurtleff’s request solely because the flag he asked to raise “promot[e]d a specific religion,” the Supreme Court determined that the “refusal discriminated based on religious viewpoint and violated the Free Speech Clause.”
“Boston did not make the raising and flying of private groups’ flags a form of government speech. That means, in turn, that Boston’s refusal to let Shurtleff and Camp Constitution raise their flag based on its religious viewpoint ‘abridg[ed]’ their ‘freedom of speech,’” wrote Associate Justice Stephen Breyer in the majority opinion.
During Wednesday’s ceremony, Liberty Counsel’s Mihet recalled growing up in communist Romania and witnessing a government that he said “was determined to stamp out religious expression from the public square at all costs.”
“My friends,” he urged, “I have to tell you that we need to do anything and everything in our power to make sure that free speech and free exercise of religion always remains free and protected in this great land of ours.”
“It takes courageous clients — it takes courageous Christians and people of faith who are willing to draw that line in the sand and to say ‘no’ to the government when the government draws an edict that contravenes our Constitution. And we’re so happy and glad that we found such courageous Christians right here in the cradle of freedom, in the city of Boston itself,” he concluded.
After hearing from all the speakers, the crowd that had gathered for Wednesday’s ceremony ended their time by singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “God Bless America.”
Kenneth Chan is Director of Communications at Family Research Council and serves as an editor at The Washington Stand.