The Freedom From Religion Foundation is celebrating a federal appeals court’s decision affirming that the city of Boston has the right to deny citizens’ requests to fly a divisive Christian flag in front of City Hall.
FFRF had previously joined a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the city’s opposition to Christian residents who demanded the unfurling of the flag — white with a blue rectangle in the corner inset with a blood-red Latin cross — on government property. In Shurtleff v. City of Boston, a three-judge panel for the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed on Friday, Jan. 22, with a federal district court that flying this flag would send a clear message that the city favored Christianity, in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
The panel made the crucial legal determination that a flag in front of City Hall is government speech, not private speech or a public forum, even if residents can occasionally make flag requests. The city is “entitled to select the views that it wants to express,” the court stated, quoting a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court case. “Our government-speech finding bolsters the conclusion that the city would be perceived to endorse the messages conveyed by the flags that it flies,” wrote Circuit Judge Bruce Selya, joined by Judges Sandra Lynch and Kermit Lipez.
The Christian flag is the same flag paraded by Christian Nationalists into the U.S. Capitol at the Jan. 6 insurrectionist riot, intermingled with symbols of white supremacy, FFRF points out.
“The Christian Nationalist nature of the insurrection highlights the importance of vehemently rejecting calls for governmental bodies to identify with Christian extremism and Christian Nationalism,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “The U.S. Constitution guarantees religious liberty for all by prohibiting the government from favoring any one religion in particular, or from favoring religion over nonreligion.”
As many as a third of Boston city residents identify as “Nones” while a further 10 percent follow faiths other than Christianity, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey.
“Boston is not a Christian city and the United States is not a Christian nation,” adds Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “A governmental endorsement of Christianity would have turned a large proportion of the Boston population into second-class citizens, and struck a blow at the secular foundation of our country.”
Unfortunately, Liberty Counsel, the Christian Nationalist legal outfit that brought this suit, is vowing to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. FFRF warns that Christian Nationalism remains a major threat in the country, given previous President Trump’s appointment of three Supreme Court justices and almost one-third of the federal judiciary. FFRF will continue to monitor this case and will work to uphold the constitutional separation between religion and government.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,000 members across the country, including over 600 in Massachusetts. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.
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