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Thomas Gallatin / May 4, 2022

SCOTUS: Boston Wrong to Refuse Flying of Christian Flag

The Court unanimously slaps down Boston’s abuse of religious freedom and free speech.

The U.S. Supreme Court was in the news Monday for more than just that leak on Roe v. Wade. The justices also handed down a unanimous decision reinforcing Americans’ constitutional right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The case in question was Shurtleff v. the City of Boston, wherein the Court overturned a lower court decision in order to rule that the city of Boston violated the First Amendment when it rejected a Christian organization’s request to fly a Christian flag on one of the three flag poles in front of City Hall.

At issue was the fact that the city had allowed 284 other organizations to fly their flags during commemorative events. Indeed, Boston had promoted the practice as an expression of the city’s diversity. But then city leaders refused the Christian organization known as Camp Constitution, which states that its mission is “to enhance understanding of the country’s Judeo-Christian heritage.” The organization’s founder, Harold Shurtleff, sued the city.

Boston argued that rejecting Camp Constitution’s request was in order to avoid “publicize messages antithetical to its own.” In other words, Boston admitted that it refused to give voice to certain views with which it did not agree.

The Supreme Court’s 9-0 ruling against Boston sends a clear and undivided message that the city trampled on the Constitution. “We conclude that Boston’s flag-raising program does not express government speech,” wrote soon-to-be retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. “As a result, the city’s refusal to let [the group] fly their flag based on its religious viewpoint violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

“When the government encourages diverse expression — say, by creating a forum for debate — the First Amendment prevents it from discriminating against speakers based on their viewpoint,” Breyer added. “The city’s lack of meaning­ful involvement in the selection of flags or the crafting of their messages leads us to classify the flag raisings as pri­vate, not government, speech — though nothing prevents Boston from changing its policies going forward.”

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch further explained that “government speech occurs if — but only if — a government purposefully expresses a message of its own through persons authorized to speak on its behalf.” Therefore, the government simply allowing speech does not constitute the government sanctioning such speech.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh also noted, “Under the Constitution, a government may not treat reli­gious persons, religious organizations, or religious speech as second-class.”

This was a big and unanimous win for religious liberty and freedom of speech, and it was a badly needed check on those in the halls of power who have increasingly sought to twist the protections of the First Amendment ironically against the promotion of free speech and the free expression of religion.

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