WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 2, 2022)—The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that the city of Boston violated the First Amendment rights of a West Roxbury man by refusing to fly a Christian flag with a cross on it at City Hall Plaza.
In a ruling written by retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, all nine members of the nation’s highest court agreed that the city should not have kept Harold Shurtleff’s flag off the flagpole which the city in the past had already agreed could be used by a bank and to recognize Gay Pride Week.
“We conclude that, on balance, Boston did not make the raising and flying of private groups’ flags a form of government speech,’’ Breyer wrote for the court. “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.’ “
Shurtleff, who as head of Camp Constitution had argued in court papers that his group was denied a permit in 2017 to raise a Christian flag on one of three City Hall flag poles in connection with an event. Shurtleff had lost in challenges filed in US District Court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court solidly sided with him Monday. According to the court, Shurtleff’s request was the only time the city refused to fly a flag, having approved 284 requests from a variety of businesses and organizations between 2005 and 2017, the court said.
The court said if the city had issued a flag policy that expressly endorsed the message printed on the flag, then it would have qualified as government speech, and the city could deny – or accept – flag requests from those organizations the city explicitly supported.
“The first and basic question we must answer is whether Boston’s flag-raising program constitutes government, speech. If so, Boston may refuse flags based on viewpoint. The First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause does not prevent the government from declining to express a view,” Breyer wrote. “That must be true for government to work. Boston could not easily congratulate the Red Sox on a victory were the city powerless to decline to simultaneously transmit the views of disappointed Yankees fans.”
Source: The Boston Globe wrote the original article, and Bee News Daily contributed.