By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to hear a group's challenge to Boston's rejection of its request to fly a flag bearing the image of a Christian cross over city hall in a case involving religious and free speech rights.
The justices will consider an appeal by a Christian group called Camp Constitution of a lower court ruling in favor of the city, taking up the case four days before the start of their new nine-month term.
Camp Constitution is a volunteer group that teaches classes on U.S. history and current events. It unsuccessfully applied to raise a flag with a Christian cross on it over city hall in 2017. It noted that Boston had granted hundreds of requests brought by other private groups seeking to raise various flags.
The group said the city's refusal to grant the request violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. Part of the city's defense is that raising the flag might violate another section of the First Amendment that prohibits government endorsement of religion.
Lower courts sided with the city, with the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals finding in January that raising the flag would represent a form of government speech, which gives the city more leeway to decide what speech is allowed.
The city had never previously denied a request and had previously approved flags of other countries and private organizations, including the LGBT pride flag.
The court will hear oral argument early next year, with a ruling due by the end of June.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)