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Boston Ban on Religious Flags Inspires Suit

A civic group that wants to fly a flag of a red Latin cross over Boston City Hall brought a federal complaint Friday to get its way.

BOSTON (CN) - A civic group that wants to fly a flag of a red Latin cross over Boston City Hall brought a federal complaint Friday to get its way.

Represented by Liberty Counsel in Orlando and the firm McLane & McLane, of Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, the group Camp Constitution says that Gregory Rooney, the commissioner of Boston’s Property Management Department, first informed it last year about a supposed policy against “flying non-secular flags on the City Hall flagpoles.”

At the time, according to the complaint, Camp Constitution had been waiting over a month for word on its permit request to fly a Christian flag in honor of the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.

Camp Constitution says it is dedicated to enhancing America’s understanding of its “Judeo-Christian moral heritage,” and that the city has granted at least one prior request by co-founder Harold Shurtleff “to raise a flag on one of the City Hall flagpoles.”

The complaint does not specify the type of flag that Shurtleff previously used, but it says the flag that was denied a permit last year displayed “a red Latin cross against a blue square bordered on three sides by a white field.”

Shurtleff made a similar request for an October event he branded as “Camp Constitution Christian Flag Raising.” The complaint says this request did not even get a response.

Disputing the city’s claims about a policy on nonsecular flags, Camp Constitution says Boston has published no guidelines to this effect. The city has also in the past approved of flags that contain explicit religious references, according to the complaint.

Camp Constitution notes that the Portuguese flag, for example, includes five blue shields whose markings “represent the five wounds of Christ when crucified.”

“Counting the [shield] dots and doubling those five in the center, there are thirty dots that represents the coins Judas received for having betrayed Christ,” the complaint states, quoting an explanation that Boston posted on its website for the Portuguese-American festival.

Boston’s own city flag, according to the complaint, also contains the Latin inscription “Sicut Patribus, Sit Deus Nobis,” which means, “God be with us as he was with our fathers.”

Furthermore when Boston commemorates the Revolutionary War Battle of Bunker Hill, it flies a flag depicting a red St. George’s Cross.

“Defendants’ unwritten policy that prohibits ‘non-secular’ flags in the city’s designated public forum of the City Hall Flagpoles is unconstitutional in that it grants unbridled discretion to government officials to determine what is ‘non-secular’ and therefore to impermissibly ban expressive displays on the basis of content, viewpoint, or other unconstitutional grounds,” the complaint states. “Defendant Rooney exercised his authority as commissioner of property management for the city of Boston capriciously and arbitrarily to label Plaintiffs’ proposed display of the Christian flag ‘non-secular’ and thereby deny access to defendants’ designated public forum unless Plaintiffs agreed to display a ‘non-religious’ flag.”

Camp Constitution notes that another Constitution Day and Citizenship Day is around the corner, and it wants an injunction so that it can raise the Christian flag this year.

A representative for the Boston mayor’s press office has not responded to an email seeking comment.

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