City officials in Boston should not have to fly a Christian flag on municipal flagpoles to mark a private event, Americans United and a broad collection of allies told a federal appeals court March 11.
Americans United, the Anti-Defamation League, the Sikh Coalition and 12 other religious and public policy groups filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a case pending before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concerning an event that was held last year. Harold Shurtleff, a resident of West Roxbury, sought to compel city officials to fly the flag during an event he sponsors in Boston called “Camp Constitution.” When officials refused, Shurtleff asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction requiring them to do it. A federal court ruled against Shurtleff, and the case is on appeal.
“Because religious symbols are powerful expressions of ideas, for many people it would be profoundly affirming to see a flag promoting their own religion flying outside city hall,” observes the brief. “But to those who do not subscribe to the beliefs represented by the flag, the display instead may send a stigmatizing message of exclusion from the political community. And even for adherents to the favored religion, the government’s use, for its own purposes, of their religious symbol may be demeaning to both their faith and the revered symbol.” (Shurtleff v. City of Boston)