The US Supreme Court will examine on Tuesday whether the city of Boston violated the freedom of speech of a Christian group that sought to fly a flag in front of City Hall.
Three flagpoles stand in front of Boston City Hall. The American flag and the Massachusetts state flag are permanent features. The third flagpole is usually reserved for the Boston flag, but the city has allowed groups to use it temporarily when holding events in front of the building.
Flags that have been flown include the LGBTQ+ pride flag and those of different nations.
In 2017, Harold Shurtleff, the founder of Camp Constitution, a volunteer group that aims “to improve understanding of the country’s Judeo-Christian heritage,” asked to fly a white flag with a red cross over a blue square. at an event featuring “short speeches by certain local clergy focusing on Boston history,” the court documents say.
The city denied the request and soon after issued rules stating that it would refuse flags that support “discrimination, prejudice, or religious movements.”
Shurtleff sued, claiming the city violated his freedom of speech by denying him and Camp Constitution access to the flagpole, which he says is a public forum.
The city argued that the pole is government speech and that flying religious flags on it would constitute an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
In court documents, attorneys for Shurtleff say the city has long exercised little control over who could use the flagpole, sometimes approving requests without looking at the flags that would be raised.
Prior to Shurtleff’s request, over a decade, the city approved 284 flag-raising events without denying any.
Two lower courts have ruled in favor of the city, but the rulings could be overturned by a top court controlled 6-3 by conservative justices.
Additionally, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Biden’s Justice Department filed briefs on the side of Camp Constitution, claiming the flagpole was used essentially as a public forum.
“[The city] flew political flags, national flags and the flags of private civic organizations,” wrote David Cole, national legal director for the ACLU, in a Washington Post op-ed.
“Free speech principles prohibit the government from discriminating against speakers because of their messages, including religious messages.”
After the Supreme Court announced it would take up the case, Boston said it would no longer accept requests to fly flags in front of City Hall.