BOSTON — A U.S. federal judge has rejected an appeal on behalf of a religious group to raise a Christian flag at Boston City Hall in place of the city’s flag on Tuesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper denied the judgment to Harold Shurtleff after filing several suits beginning in 2018. Shurtleff and his Camp Constitution organization had previously sought a permit to raise the flag in September 2017 during a proposed event intended to celebrate the “Christian community's civic and social contributions to the city and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
While the city permitted the event to occur, Shurtleff’s request to raise the flag was formally denied by Property Management Commissioner Gregory Rooney who determined the city had no previous record of flying a religious flag.
A written policy from the city regarding flag-raising indicates “at no time will the City of Boston display flags deemed to be inappropriate or offensive in nature or those supporting discrimination, prejudice, or religious movements.”
“There are no additional facts in the record that would suggest any improper preference for non-religion over religion or selective treatment of any person or group based on religion,” Casper wrote in her order on Tuesday.
While Shurtleff argued that they raised 284 flags between 2005 and 2017 as evidence and no previous requests were denied, the city refuted by indicating the majority of those flags were of other countries, as well as civic and community symbols.
"The flag sends an overt religious message and could reasonably be construed to be an endorsement of Christianity by the city, which would be a violation of the Establishment Clause," read a statement from Mayor Marty Walsh’s office.
Camp Constitution describes its mission is “to enhance understanding of our Judeo-Christian moral heritage, our American heritage of courage and ingenuity... and the application of free enterprise." Shurtleff, a former regional director with the John Birch Society, drew controversy after video surfaced of a Camp Constitution retreat in which he instructs young camp-goers in climate change denial theories and conspiracies against the United Nations.
“We are appealing the decision and will take it all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary,” Shurtleff told the Boston Herald.
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