Boston violated First Amendment in denying flying Christian flag, Supreme Court says

The city of Boston violated the First Amendment when it refused to fly an outside group’s Christian flag in front of City Hall, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled Monday. In 2017, the city denied a request to fly the Christian flag outside City Hall on Constitution Day, saying flying the flag would be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. But Hal Shurtleff, founder of the nonprofit group Camp Constitution, which brought the case, argued the flagpole was effectively treated by the city as a public forum open to all viewpoints for more than a decade.”City Hall should have given us the permit and be done with it. But they decided to dig in. They could have said, ‘ We were wrong. Go ahead and fly your flag.’ But they didn’t. It is a shame that the taxpayers have to foot the legal fees, the taxpayers of Boston. But that is what happens. You elect people with a certain worldview, and this is what you get,” Shurtleff said. Justice Stephen Breyer writing for the court, said, “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” their “freedom of speech.”The city has approved nearly 300 flag-raising events over the years, including flags for LGBTQ-plus Pride, Veterans Day and flags representing various cultural and ethnic groups. Court documents show the Christian flag is the only one to be denied. “We are carefully reviewing the Court’s decision and its recognition of city governments’ authority to operate similar programs. As we consider next steps, we will ensure that future City of Boston programs are aligned with this decision,” a city spokesperson said. The court’s decision was unanimous.

The city of Boston violated the First Amendment when it refused to fly an outside group’s Christian flag in front of City Hall, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled Monday.

In 2017, the city denied a request to fly the Christian flag outside City Hall on Constitution Day, saying flying the flag would be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

But Hal Shurtleff, founder of the nonprofit group Camp Constitution, which brought the case, argued the flagpole was effectively treated by the city as a public forum open to all viewpoints for more than a decade.

“City Hall should have given us the permit and be done with it. But they decided to dig in. They could have said, ‘We were wrong. Go ahead and fly your flag.’ But they didn’t. It is a shame that the taxpayers have to foot the legal fees, the taxpayers of Boston. But that is what happens. You elect people with a certain worldview, and this is what you get,” Shurtleff said.

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Justice Stephen Breyer writing for the court, said, “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.”

The city has approved nearly 300 flag-raising events over the years, including flags for LGBTQ-plus Pride, Veterans Day and flags representing various cultural and ethnic groups. Court documents show the Christian flag is the only one to be denied.

“We are carefully reviewing the Court’s decision and its recognition of city governments’ authority to operate similar programs. As we consider next steps, we will ensure that future City of Boston programs are aligned with this decision,” a city spokesperson said.

The court’s decision was unanimous.

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