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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that the city of Boston violated the Constitution when it refused to allow a local organization fly a Christian flag in front of city hall.
“While the case had religious overtones, the decision was fundamentally about free speech rights. The court said the city created a public forum, open to all comers when it allowed organizations to use a flagpole in front of City Hall for commemorative events. Denying the same treatment for the Christian flag was a violation of free expression, the court said,” NBC News reported.
“The ruling was a victory for a group called Camp Constitution, which says part of its mission is ‘to enhance understanding of the country’s Judeo-Christian heritage.’ The group wanted to raise a flag bearing a Latin cross during a one-hour event that would include speeches about Boston’s history from local clergy,” the report added.
NEW: Supreme Court unanimously rules that Boston violated the Constitution by refusing to fly a Christian civic group's flag at city hall while raising the banners of other organizations.
— Greg Stohr (@GregStohr) May 2, 2022
The city of Boston claimed that allowing a Christian flag to fly on a flagpole often used by community groups is a government endorsement of religion.
Lawyers for Harold Shurtleff, whose 2017 request to fly a Christian flag was denied, cited that in the 12 years before his request, not one of the 284 proposed events was denied by the city.
“‘The flagpole that stands prominently at the city’s seat of government is the means by which the city communicates its own messages,’ Boston’s lawyers told the Supreme Court. The city uses it as a bully pulpit and has not turned it over ‘to private parties as a forum to pronounce their own messages,’” the outlet reported.
Shockingly enough, the American Civil Liberties Union has come out against banning the flag.
“When the government opens its public property for private speakers, it has to treat everybody equally,” said David Cole, ACLU national legal director. “This case is really about private citizens’ access to government property to express themselves. And that access is critical to our ability to speak to each other, to express our views and the like.”
The Anti-Defamation League, however, sided with the city.
“The value to such groups of the ‘photo op’ of a Nazi flag, the Confederate flag, or some other white supremacist banner flying over Boston City Hall should not be underestimated,” the group said.
Shurtleff made his request as part of Camp Constitution, which he founded and which has as part of its mission “to enhance understanding of the country’s Judeo-Christian heritage.”
The flag he wants to fly is a cross in a blue square on a white field.
“It’s a public access flagpole,” Shurtleff told ABC.
“It’s kind of ludicrous to think flying a flag on a flagpole for maybe an hour or two will somehow get people to think, ‘Oh my goodness, look at the city of Boston now endorsing the Protestant or the Christian faith.”
“The city, for its own speech, does not want to get into the issue of religion,” said attorney Doug Hallward-Driemeier, who is arguing the case for Boston. “It’s said that it didn’t want to fly a flag that was offered as ‘the Christian flag,’ because that wasn’t the message that the city itself wanted to communicate.”
“I don’t know of any white nationalists carrying Christian flags. That may have happened, but I don’t know. But this flag certainly represents Christianity and was designed by a couple of Sunday school teachers. Not exactly white supremacists,” Shurtleff stated.
“We’re optimistic that they will rule in our favor and that we will be allowed to raise the flag, although I understand the city will most likely cancel its flag-raising events. So we’ll see what happens,” he added.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court announced it will hear the case of a former Seattle-area football coach who was fired from his job because he refused to stop praying on the field.
When the school district learned that Kennedy was praying with the team, they told him that he could pray separately from the students. Kennedy declined to change his practice, was put on paid leave, and sued.
Lower courts sided with the school district. Now, the case has made its way to the nation’s highest court.