BOSTON, Mass.—After five years of legal battles, Camp Constitution was finally allowed to raise its Christian flag at the Boston City Hall Plaza.
The flag-raising ceremony was held on Wednesday morning with about 200 people in the audience. Harold Shurtleff, co-founder of Camp Constitution, together with Mathew Staver, chairperson of the Liberty Counsel, raised the flag with a red cross amid music and cheers.
“It’s almost five years in the making, but we’re very excited about it today,” Shurtleff said.
In September 2017, City of Boston, citing “separation of church and state,” rejected Camp Constitution’s application for raising a “Christian flag” at the City Hall Plaza. Shurtleff sued the City, but lost his case in a U.S. district court and then the Court of Appeals.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously on May 2 this year that Boston’s decision to allow national flags and flags about historic events, causes, and organizations to fly outside its city hall while refusing to raise a Christian flag is an unconstitutional example of government censorship.
“This case concerns a flagpole outside Boston City Hall. For years, Boston has allowed private groups to request use of the flagpole to raise flags of their choosing. As part of this program, Boston approved hundreds of requests to raise dozens of different flags. The city did not deny a single request to raise a flag until, in 2017, Harold Shurtleff, the director of a group called Camp Constitution, asked to fly a Christian flag. Boston refused,” Justice Stephen Breyer said in the court’s opinion.
Flags that were allowed to be raised at the City Hall Plaza included the Pride flag and communist China’s flag.
“Under our precedents, and in view of our government-speech holding here, that refusal discriminated based on religious viewpoint and violated the Free Speech Clause,” Justice Breyer said.
Big Win for Freedom of Speech and Religion
For attendees at the Aug. 3rd ceremony, like Sophia, the Supreme Court’s ruling was a big win for the freedom of speech and religion.
“In America right now, everyone’s freedom, you can do everything, except when you have the name of Jesus. So I think this is a huge win for us, to show that Christians aren’t going to be shut down anymore and that the love we have for everybody can be shown out,” Sophia said.
Attorneys from the Liberty Counsel represented Shurtleff in the litigation against the City of Boston. The case Shurtleff v. Boston was later cited by the Supreme Court as part of the reasons to overturn the “Lemon Test,” which effectively banned prayers in public schools.
“We have a great constitution, and we have a wonderful First Amendment, but just like when it comes to muscles, if you don’t use it, it gets weak,” Shurtleff said.
He said it was his experience in the Army that urged him to keep fighting in the face of challenges.
“I took a note of office when I went into the Army to uphold the Constitution. That all stays with me till the day I die, so I had no choice,” he said.
Boston Updating Flag Raising Policy
Meanwhile, the City of Boston is changing its flag-raising policy to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision.
According to the City’s announcement, Mayor Michelle Wu and members of the Boston City Council filed an ordinance on Tuesday to update the City’s process for raising flags on the City Hall Plaza. Under the new process, private groups who apply for flag raising will be required to get a City Council resolution or a mayoral proclamation.
“I’m glad we have a clear way to resolve these legal issues and bring back the beloved traditions we’ve been missing during these proceedings,” Wu said.
“The flags that we raise at City Hall Plaza should reflect and celebrate our City’s values, and this ordinance lays out a formal process that will allow us to do that,” said City Council President Ed Flynn.