Written by Don Byrd

Is city property the right place to fly a religious flag? What if the city allows others to temporarily fly their own secular flags on city property?

A federal judge in Massachusetts declined to grant the City of Boston’s motion for summary judgment in a ruling this week that will allow a lawsuit to continue challenging the city’s refusal to allow a Christian flag to be raised at City Hall. The factual record of the case, the judge explained, is not sufficiently developed to support a ruling in the city’s favor.

At issue is the city’s practice of allowing third-party groups to request that their flag temporarily fly on a flag pole alongside the American and Massachusetts state flags outside Boston’s City Hall. The requests are typically made in conjunction with an organization’s event on city property or the visit of a dignitary of another country. But the city’s Mayor, citing concerns of church-state separation, refused a request from Camp Constitution, a Christian organization seeking to mark its celebration of Constitution Day in the city by hoisting the Christian flag.

Specifically, the court noted that the record does not yet contain enough “information about the history of flags on the City flagpole to assess the primary effect of the City’s policy on non-secular flags.”

Meanwhile, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals is considering Camp Constitution’s appeal of the court’s previous denial of a preliminary injunction that would have required the city to display the flag. 

This an interesting case that raises tough questions about government’s ability to steer clear of Establishment Clause (church-state) concerns when it means denying a religious organization access to some benefit afforded to non-religious entities. Stay tuned.