The city of Boston will pay out $2.1 million in a settlement with a Christian group after the city refused to fly the group’s Christian flag outside City Hall in 2017.
The settlement comes after a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in May that said Boston violated the free speech rights of Camp Constitution, a New Hampshire-based Christian organization, when the city refused to let the group hoist its flag in front of the third flag pole at City Hall Plaza as part of a Constitution Day ceremony in 2017.
The city will pay $2.1 million to Liberty Counsel, which represented Camp Constitution and its founder Harold Shurtleff in the suit. A release from Liberty Counsel says the settlement will go toward attorney’s fees and “costs for the unconstitutional religious viewpoint discrimination of the Christian flag.”
The Christian flag was later raised at Boston City Hall in August.
From 2005 to 2017, Boston approved 284 flag raisings by private organizations with no denials. However, the city official denied Camp Constitution’s application in 2017 to fly the Christian flag on Constitution Day, according to Liberty Counsel.
“The policy stated that the flagpole was open to all applicants, but the city of Boston denied Hal Shurtleff’s application for the sole reason that the application form referred to the flag as a ‘Christian’ flag,” Liberty Counsel said. “Had the application used any other non-religious word, Boston would have granted the request.”
In May’s ruling, the Supreme Court said Boston could not discriminate on the basis of the religious group’s viewpoint without violating the Constitution.
“We conclude that, on balance, Boston did not make the raising and flying of private groups’ flags a form of government speech,” the Supreme Court said. “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.’”
Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver said, “We are pleased that after five years of litigation and a unanimous victory at the U.S. Supreme Court, we joined with Hal Shurtleff to finally let freedom fly in Boston, the Cradle of Liberty. The Christian flag case has established significant precedent, including the overturning of the 1971 ‘Lemon Test,’ which Justice Scalia once described as a ‘ghoul in a late night horror movie.’ The case of Shurtleff v. City of Boston finally buried this ghoul that haunted the First Amendment for 51 years.”
In May, the Satanic Temple applied to have one of its flags raised in Boston following the Supreme Court ruling.
“Religious Liberty is a bedrock principle in a democracy, and religious liberty is dependent upon government viewpoint neutrality,” Lucien Greaves, co-founder of the Satanic Temple, previously said in a statement. “When public officials are allowed to preference certain religious viewpoints over others, we do not have Religious Liberty, we have theocracy.”
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