Supreme Court Rules Boston Illegally Rejected Flying ‘Christian Flag’

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the city of Boston violated a group’s First Amendment rights by denying its request to fly a Christian flag outside City Hall.

“This case concerns a flagpole outside Boston City Hall. For years, Boston has allowed private groups to request use of the flagpole to raise flags of their choosing,” Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the court’s opinion. “As part of this program, Boston approved hundreds of requests to raise dozens of different flags. The city did not deny a single request to raise a flag until, in 2017, Harold Shurtleff, the director of a group called Camp Constitution, asked to fly a Christian flag. Boston refused.”

Between 2005 to 2017, Boston allowed about 50 different flags for nearly 300 celebrations to be flown outside City Hall, including the flags from China, Cuba, and the LGBT flag for Boston Pride. The only applicant to be turned down was Shurtleff, who had proposed flying the Christian flag for Constitution Day and Citizenship Day on September 17, 2017, which celebrates the signing of the Constitution in 1787.

“At that time, Boston admits, it had no written policy limiting use of the flagpole based on the content of a flag,” Breyer continued. “The parties dispute whether, on these facts, Boston reserved the pole to fly flags that communicate governmental messages, or instead opened the flagpole for citizens to express their own views. If the former, Boston is free to choose the flags it flies without the constraints of the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. If the latter, the Free Speech Clause prevents Boston from refusing a flag based on its viewpoint.”

“We conclude that, on balance, Boston did not make the raising and flying of private groups’ flags a form of government speech. That means, in turn, that Boston’s refusal to let Shurtleff and Camp Constitution raise their flag based on its religious viewpoint ‘abridg[ed]’ their ‘freedom of speech,’” Breyer wrote.

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