Christian flag raised at Boston City Hall months after Supreme Court ruling

Boston City Hall in Boston, Massachusetts.
Boston City Hall in Boston, Massachusetts. | Public Doman

A Christian flag was raised Tuesday at Boston City Hall following a lengthy battle that resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year.

The vibrant blue, red and white fabric was lifted high around 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

Conservative activist Harold Shurtleff of the organization Camp Constitution first requested to fly the white and blue flag with a red cross symbol outside City Hall in 2017. Five years later, his request was granted. 

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"I do want to give the glory to God because God's hand was in this from the very beginning," Shurtleff said at the flag-raising ceremony

"We have a great Constitution and a wonderful First Amendment, but just like when it comes to muscle, if you don't use it, then you get weak. When I got the rejection email from the city and it said 'separation of church and state,' I knew we had a case."

Typically, City Hall has the Massachusetts and Boston flags flying outside and the city and occasionally removes one of its own flags to raise another flag for a temporary period.

Christian flag and American flag flying together
Christian flag and American flag flying together | GettyImages/ sdgamez

From 2005 to 2017, Boston approved 284 flag raisings by private organizations with no denials on the flagpoles that it designated a "public forum," according to the Christian conservative legal group Liberty Counsel.

However, the city rejected Shurtleff's request to fly the "Christian flag" outside City Hall because doing so would be a government endorsement of religion. 

According to Liberty Counsel, which represented Shurtleff in the legal battle, the denial was because the application referred to the flag as a "Christian" flag. The legal group contends that if any other word were used to describe the flag, the city would have approved the application. 

On May 2, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in favor of Shurtleff, with outgoing Justice Stephen Breyer writing the majority opinion. 

"We conclude that, on balance, Boston did not make the raising and flying of private groups' flags a form of government speech," wrote Breyer.

"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.'"

The Boston Herald reported Tuesday the city plans to propose a change to its flag-raising policies to garner more jurisdiction over the matter. An ordinance filed to change the rule states that any person who wants to fly a flag on City Hall Plaza will need either a proclamation from the mayor or a resolution from the council, according to CBS News Boston

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