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The Constitution and the Ten Commandments: A Christian group plants its flag

Camp Constitution chaplain Steven Louis Craft (left) and Junior Camp director Edith M. Craft chatted with Harold Shurtleff, the director of Camp Constitution, a Christian group from New Hampshire whose efforts to fly a Christian flag at Boston City Hall were rebuffed in 2017; now the case is headed to the US Supreme Court. The Christian flag and American flag were displayed at the house.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

LEXINGTON — The Rev. Steven Louis Craft slapped a page of the “American Patriot’s Bible,” a paperback version of the Scriptures with extensive commentary on US history. Its subtitle: “The Word of God and the Shaping of America.”

“This is where I get my convictions,” said Craft, 78, nodding toward the Bible, opened on a large table in a comfortable two-story home here. “It’s never been proven wrong. This is the word of God.”

Craft is the chaplain of Camp Constitution, a New Hampshire-based organization whose request to fly a Christian flag outside Boston City Hall was rejected in 2017, even though city officials had approved 284 flag-raisings over 12 years without exception, including the flags of China, Cuba, and even the Montreal Canadiens hockey team.


The case has been taken up by the US Supreme Court.

Boston barred the flag — a white banner with a red Christian cross in a blue rectangle — as a reflection of government endorsement of religion. But in arguments last month, Supreme Court justices across the ideological spectrum indicated that the city had erred by infringing on the right to free speech.

The camp’s appeal to the high court also received support from the US Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union.

At issue is whether the city had set aside the flagpole as a public forum open to private organizations and causes, or whether the city was indulging in official, protected speech by choosing which flags it would endorse.

“Private parties are free to wave their flags on City Hall Plaza or even raise a temporary flagpole there,” Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, a lawyer representing the city, told the Supreme Court. “But they cannot commandeer the city’s flagpole to send a message the city does not endorse.”

Until Camp Constitution’s application was denied, nearly 300 groups had been allowed to fly flags on one of three poles outside City Hall. Camp officials said they had hoped to honor Constitution Day, which falls on Sept. 17.


To Craft and others at the camp, the city’s denial is more fodder for their argument that religious groups face government discrimination in a country whose founders routinely asked for divine intervention and guidance.

“It was never my intention to get it denied. That was the last thing on my mind,” said Hal Shurtleff,who cofounded Camp Constitution in 2009. However, he added, “I could say that God put it in my heart to raise the flag.”

The flag, a non-denominational design more than a century old, flew from the home where Shurtleff, other camp officials, and past campers gathered one recent afternoon.

Shurtleff, 62, of Alton, N.H., said the leaders of Camp Constitution “don’t want a theocracy.” Instead, the organization states, its mission is to teach “the principles of liberty, freedom, and our nation’s godly heritage.”

That mission revolves around a week-long summer camp, to be held this year at Singing Hills Christian Camp in Plainfield, N.H., that offers many activities found in other camps: archery, Wiffle ball, a chess tournament, singalongs, even a daily newspaper.

The camp also has a firing range, where a photo on its website shows a young camper with a Tavor 5.56-caliber rifle, a semiautomatic weapon whose magazine is located behind the trigger and allows for a shorter, more concealable design.


Camp Constitution held marksmanship sessions in addition to classes about the Second Amendment. A camper fired a Tavor 5.56-caliber rifle, a semiautomatic weapon whose magazine allows for a shorter, more concealable design. Camp Constitution

Outdoor activities are complemented by a robust educational component, with classes on subjects such as the Second Amendment, the Bill of Rights, Electoral College, and how religion influences political thought.

The camp also offers lectures on a wide array of subjects, including COVID-19. In one presentation, the website shows, a camp instructor displayed a controversial talking point that describes COVID as the sole cause of death for only 6 percent of more than 900,000 US deaths attributed to the virus by federal health officials.

That 6 percent figure, however, does not account for the vast majority of COVID-related deaths that were exacerbated by underlying conditions such as heart disease and obesity, or conditions such as respiratory failure that were caused by COVID.

None of three camp leaders interviewed by the Globe said they had been vaccinated for the virus. Shurtleff said he had contracted and recovered from COVID.

“These mask mandates are ridiculous. It just gives people a false sense of security,” said Shurtleff, who argued that COVID mandates are an example of creeping government overreach.

“It seems more than obvious, and what is more concerning is that so many people seem to be complying,” Shurtleff said.

One of Camp Constitution’s aims is to reinforce the idea of individual liberties.

Camp Constitution instructor Alan Newman spoke about COVID-19, including a controversial talking point that only 6 percent of COVID deaths are caused solely by the disease. Federal health officials say this statistic obscures the fact that COVID's effect is exacerbated by underlying conditions such as heart disease and obesity, and that COVID-connected factors such as respiratory failure also can be listed as a cause of death. Camp Constitution

“There are a lot of people who are new to the patriot movement,” said Shurtleff, an Army veteran who hosts a weekly Camp Constitution radio show. “Our goal is to help raise up potential teachers, CEOs, politicians, and the most important thing — parents.”


A big part of reaching that goal, Shurtleff said, is instilling more religious sensibility across all levels of US government.

“Adherence to religious principles may help to bring about a closer adherence to the Constitution,” Shurtleff said. “How? Those who adhere to the religious principles spelled out in the 10 Commandments and the Golden Rule would most likely take their oaths of office seriously.”

The Constitution, according to the camp website, has been tarnished by “abuses and perversions.”

According to Shurtleff, examples include “aiding and abetting illegal aliens by shipping them all over the United States instead of deporting them,” mask and vaccine mandates, foreign aid, and the US Department of Education, which he said has no authority under the Constitution and should be abolished.

Many of the approximately 150 campers, most in their mid-teens, come from home-schooling families, Shurtleff said, as opposed to public schools that he contends were hijacked by socialists decades ago.

“We want to raise children who are constitutionally sound,” said Edith M. Craft, who directs programs for young campers and is the chaplain’s wife. “We have to start when they are young.”

Adults also are drawn to the camp’s curriculum. Kathleen Lynch, a mother of two from Westford, decided to attend by herself last year.

“The Constitution is the law of our land, and we don’t get a good education in our public schools. I need to get better” at understanding the document, Lynch said. “I’m concerned that the Constitution is being shredded.”


Lynch said she has First Amendment concerns that “speech is being suppressed,” particularly on social media platforms where “fact-checkers” and others can delete posts or bar contributors altogether.

Camp Constitution cofounder Hal Shurtleff (left) joined camp instructor Alan Newman, as Newman hosted a camp-sponsored radio show in 2021 featuring former presidential candidate Alan Keyes. Camp Constitution

Shurtleff and other camp leaders interviewed by the Globe lean far to the right on issues such as climate change, gun rights, and election integrity.

“I don’t see any palm trees growing in our backyards,” Shurtleff said of the effects of climate change. “We don’t think the world will end in eight years. It’s all about more government control.”

Of the 2020 election, Shurtleff said: “I think it was very possible that Trump won. ... I wouldn’t accuse Trump of being a constitutionalist, but I think he was one of the best presidents of my lifetime.”

And chaplain Steven Craft, who is Black, was dismissive of the introduction of critical race theory, which examines questions of racial justice in America, in US education.

“There’s only one race, the human race,” Craft said.

Critical race theory, he argued, teaches that “there are only two kinds of people in America, the oppressor and the oppressed. Martin Luther King said people should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. What happened to that?”

Shurtleff said he does not assume that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of a small camp that attracts fewer than 200 people. But still, he is hopeful that its efforts to make a small, symbolic statement outside Boston City Hall will be upheld.

“You never know how a Supreme Court will rule,” Shurtleff said, “but it looks good.”

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at