- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A Christian summer camp is appealing a federal court’s ruling to dismiss its religious discrimination lawsuit against Boston for refusing to fly its flag, which bears a cross, with banners from more than 280 other organizations on Constitution Day 2017.

Attorneys for Constitution Camp filed paperwork Wednesday with the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts announcing their intention to appeal Judge Denise J. Casper’s ruling on Tuesday that said Boston City Hall has a history of flying third-party standards — ranging from Ethiopia to Gay Pride flags — but never religious flags.

Mat Staver with Liberty Council, which is representing the camp, called Boston city officials guilty of censorship.

“There is a crucial difference between government endorsement of religion and private speech, which government is bound to respect,” Mr. Staver said Wednesday in a written statement. “Censoring religious viewpoint in a public forum where secular viewpoints are permitted is unconstitutional.”

Constitution Camp co-founder Harold Shurtleff and his organization sought a permit to fly a Christian flag bearing a red cross atop one of three flagpoles at Boston City Hall in July 2017. The camp describes itself on its website as a New Hampshire-based retreat for families seeking to learn about America’s “Judeo-Christian moral heritage.”

Over the previous decade, hundreds of other flags had flown temporarily in place of the city’s standard, including those for LGBTQ pride groups and a Bunker Hill historical group.

A city official rejected the request two months later, citing the flag’s explicit Christian symbology.

In her Tuesday ruling, Judge Casper — an Obama appointee — concluded that “a flag waving on the City Hall flagpole would be attributed to the City as the speaker” and violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on state-sponsored religion.

Boston officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Attorneys for Liberty Council, which has long litigated for conservative Christians, say the flag pole is a public forum open to groups with any ties, secular or religious.

“[Any unwritten rule barring religious flags] grants unbridled discretion to government officials to determine what is ‘non-secular’ and therefore to impermissibly bar expressive displays on the basis of content, viewpoint, or other unconstitutional grounds,” the attorneys said in the initial lawsuit in 2018.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that religious symbolism on public property is permissible in its decision for American Legion v American Humanist Association, which involved a Christian cross honoring World War I veterans.

In her ruling, Judge Casper referred to that decision, but only to suggest that religious imagery is permissible when on a nation’s flag, such as stars representing the piercings in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the flag of Portugal.

Boston’s property management department wrote a set of rules about flag flying after the initial denial was sent to Constitution Camp. It says that a substitute flag has in place of the city’s only 15% of the time over the past 12 years.

The other banners that regularly fly over City Hall are the U.S. flag, the state flag and the POW/MIA flag.

The Christian flag is an ecumenical standard adopted in the 20th century. Mr. Shurtleff had applied to fly the flag in Boston on Constitution Day while he distributed copies of the U.S. Constitution.

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