Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments surrounding the City of Boston’s refusal to fly the Christian flag at City Hall.
In 2017, the group Camp Constitution requested the city fly the flag for a Constitution Day event as many organizations are free to apply to have their preferred flags flown for various occasions.
However, Boston refused. Camp Constitution, in turn, filed suit. In 2020, a U.S. district court sided with the city, arguing that the flag constituted “government speech,” and thus, a government endorsement of religion.
In 2021, a U.S. appeals court upheld the ruling, prompting the group and its attorneys to appeal to the Supreme Court. They were joined by the typically left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union, which agreed that, despite their historic objection to government endorsements of religion, the City of Boston’s flag pole constituted an open forum at which all views much be allowed to be expressed.
“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. The flag itself was not the problem. Had it been called anything but Christian, the same flag would have flown for an hour without incident,” Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver argued before the court last week, as The Christian Post reported.
“The city, by an unbroken history and practice and policy, expressly declared that the flagpoles are one of its public forums open to all applicants. In doing so, the city long ago crossed the line from government speech to private speech,” he explained.
The city, meanwhile, argued that it has the right to use its own discretion in the flags it flies as this represents an extension of the messages it appears to be endorsing and that it did not want to go down the road of endorsing religion.
An attorney representing the city said during arguments that “We also want to raise awareness in Boston and beyond about the many countries and cultures of the world. Our goal is to foster diversity by celebrating the communities within Boston.”
Yet conservative Justice Clarence Thomas posed the question as to why “diversity” didn’t include Christianity, noting to the city’s attorney that he didn’t understand their definition of diversity, “because it would seem to me that Christians in Boston would be a part of that diversity calculus.”
“The City chose not to start down the road of speaking on the subject of religion from the flagpole. Of course, had they started down that road, then the argument would have been that they had to carry all religious communications because they couldn’t prefer one religious communication from the flagpole or at least that would have been the argument,” the attorney replied.
“It’s limited diversity?” Thomas asked.
“They’re celebrating a particular kind of diversity, national origin diversity, Your Honor,” he responded.
In the past, the City of Boston has flown the flag of Turkey, which sports an Islamic star and crescent while Boston’s own city flag includes the phrase “God be with us as he was with our fathers” in Latin. The LGBT flags and the Chinese flag have also made appearances.
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