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SCOTUS: Christian flag should have flown in Boston

The U.S. Supreme Court released a ruling May 2 that said a conservative Christian organization should have been allowed to fly a Christian flag outside Boston City Hall when organizers requested to do so in 2017.

Boston’s City Hall has three flagpoles: one that flies the American flag; one that flies the Massachusetts flag; and one that flies the city flag but that is also available for other uses, as VOX lays out:

This third flagpole, and the city’s practice of sometimes allowing outside groups to display a flag of their choice from it, is the centerpiece of Shurtleff. Since at least 2005, the city has permitted outside groups to hold flag-raising ceremonies on the plaza during which they can raise a flag of their choosing on the third flagpole.


At various times, the third flagpole has displayed the flags of many nations , including Brazil, China, Ethiopia, Italy, Mexico, and Turkey. It has displayed the rainbow LGBTQ pride flag, a flag commemorating the Battle of Bunker Hill, and a flag honoring Malcolm X.

The group Camp Constitution had requested to fly the Christian flag on the third flagpole. The city balked at the suggestion, in part because officials were concerned that it would be considered an endorsement of a particular religion — which would have been, in their estimation, a violation of the First Amendment on the part of the city. Prior to the request from Camp Constitution’s Harold Shurtleff, the city had never denied any requests for a flag-raising ceremony.

In the majority opinion, written by liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, the court said that the city was in the wrong to deny the request. Vox continues:

Relying on a bevy of cases establishing that the government typically cannot discriminate against a particular viewpoint, Breyer notes that “Boston concedes that it denied Shurtleff’s request solely because the Christian flag he asked to raise ‘promot[ed] a specific religion.’” Under the facts of this case, that’s a form of viewpoint discrimination and it’s not allowed.




The immediate stakes in Shurtleff, moreover, are fairly small. As Breyer notes in his opinion, other cities have lawful policies that permit only certain flags to be displayed on government-owned flagpoles. And “nothing prevents Boston from changing its policies going forward.”


But the policy that was in effect in 2017, when Shurtleff asked to display a Christian flag from Boston’s flagpole, is not allowed.

Read the entire story, which includes a discussion of the court’s reasoning, here.

Photo by David Shankbone/CCA 3.0-modified

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