The Christian flag will fly over Boston City Hall Wednesday, almost exactly three months after the Supreme Court ruled that it could. The justices said in a unanimous May 2 decision that city officials couldn’t refuse faith-related flag raising requests unless they made a policy change.
“When the government encourages diverse expression — say, by creating a forum for debate — the First Amendment prevents it from discriminating against speakers based on their viewpoint,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer in the majority opinion.
The case centered on a Boston program that enables groups holding events in city hall plaza to raise their flag on one of the three flagpoles located in the same area. “From 2005 to 2017, around 50 unique flags were flown on the pole that Boston chose to share with private groups. Most were country flags, but some were linked to causes, such as the LGBTQ Pride flag,” as the Deseret News reported in May.
Records show that city officials approved every flag raising request they received during that period. The streak ended in 2017, when an organization called Camp Constitution requested to raise the Christian flag, which features a red cross in the top left corner.
“The commissioner of Boston’s Property Management Department worried that flying a religious flag at City Hall could violate the establishment clause. ... He therefore (decided) the group could hold an event on the plaza but could not raise their flag during it,” Breyer wrote.
The Supreme Court determined that the commissioner had misinterpreted the Constitution and violated free speech protections. But the majority opinion made it clear that city officials could say no to future faith-related flag raising requests if they adjusted the policies governing use of the flagpole.
“The city’s lack of meaningful involvement in the selection of flags or the crafting of their messages leads us to classify the flag raisings as private, not government, speech — though nothing prevents Boston from changing its policies going forward,” Breyer wrote.
At the time of the ruling, the city “said it would develop policies for flag displays,” according to the Boston Globe. However, it hasn’t yet done so, therefore clearing the way for Camp Constitution to raise the Christian flag this week.
“The legal organization Liberty Counsel, which represented (Camp Constitution’s director) in the litigation, said in a Monday press release that the flag will be raised on one of the public flagpoles on City Hall Plaza at 11 a.m. on Wednesday,” the Boston Globe reported.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation is among the groups upset about the prospect of Wednesday’s flag raising. It’s “more than distressing to see the Christian flag juxtaposed with the nation’s and state’s flags,” said the organization’s co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor in a statement released Tuesday.
The statement also noted that the group plans to “apply to fly its own freethinking flag” if Boston doesn’t change its flag raising policies soon.
The Satanic Temple has already put in its application, the Boston Globe reported.
“It’s important to us to fly our flag where public forums allow flags of religious expression because religious liberty is dependent upon pluralism and government viewpoint neutrality,” said Lucien Greaves, The Satanic Temple’s co-founder, earlier this year.