The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a major religious liberty case involving the city of Boston’s refusal to fly an organization’s Christian flag while approving the flags of nearly 300 other groups.

The three flagpoles on City Hall Plaza. The one on the right displayed the Unity flag during Pride celebrations in June.CITY OF BOSTON

The case, Shurtleff v. Boston, began in 2017 when the Christian civic organization Camp Constitution requested that the Christian flag be allowed to fly on a city hall flagpole that is open to the public. The city’s unique policy encourages groups to fly their flags, temporarily, on the pole in order to “foster diversity and build and strengthen connections among Boston’s many communities,” according to the organization’s petition.

The city, though, denied Camp Constitution’s request because of the flag’s religious symbol. The Christian flag depicts a red cross on a blue rectangular background.

Liberty Counsel, which is representing Camp Constitution, claims the city’s action violated the First Amendment. During the previous 12 years, Liberty Counsel says, the city approved 284 flags – including LGBT pride flags and ethnic flags – while issuing no denials.

Lower courts sided with the city. A date for Supreme Court oral arguments has not been set. 

“The city cannot deny the Christian flag because it is ‘Christian’ and allow every other flag to fly on its flagpoles,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. “There is a crucial difference between government endorsement of religion and private speech, which government is bound to respect. Censoring religious viewpoints in a public forum where secular viewpoints are permitted is unconstitutional and this case will set national precedent.” 

The city previously allowed the Bunker Hill flag, which also includes a cross. 

Liberty Counsel contends that the city’s policy violates Camp Constitution’s free speech and religious liberty rights. 

“The City denied the request,” the petition says, “expressly because Camp Constitution’s proposed flag was called ‘Christian’ on the application form but, other than a common Latin cross on the flag itself, there is nothing to identify the flag as a ‘Christian’ flag.”

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