Supreme Court Hears Boston Free Speech Case Involving Christian Organization

The case of Shurtleff v. City of Boston considers whether the city of Boston’s flag program is properly considered a public forum for private speech or a reflection of government endorsement of messages promoted by the flags.

Boston City Hall.
Boston City Hall. (photo: Courtesy photo / andrewjsan via Flickr (CC BY 2.0))

BOSTON — The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case involving the city of Boston’s refusal to raise a flag with Christian imagery in front of its City Hall. 

The North Carolina-based organization Camp Constitution applied in June 2017 to raise a flag featuring a Latin cross in front of City Hall. The display of the flag reportedly would have coincided with an event involving speeches by local clergy.

Boston has a long-standing flag program through which private organizations can apply to raise a flag related to their cause on one of three flag poles in front of City Hall. Previous flags have represented causes including Boston Pride. Some flags have included religious imagery, but this seems to be the first application for a flag with an explicitly religious description. 

The city of Boston rejected Camp Constitution’s application, after approving all 284 previous applications in the flag program’s history. 

The city argued that displaying a flag with a Christian symbol would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Camp Constitution sued, arguing the city’s decision violated its free speech.

The case of Shurtleff v. City of Boston considers whether the city of Boston’s flag program is properly considered a public forum for private speech or a reflection of government endorsement of messages promoted by the flags. 

The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city in January 2021, arguing the government is entitled to choose the messages it endorses. 

The Supreme Court agreed in September 2021 to hear the case. The court is expected to issue a decision in June.

U.S. Supreme Court Building

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