SCOTUS Seems to Side With Group Suing Boston for Not Flying Christian Flag at City Hall

The United States Supreme Court is set to issue a decision in a case on whether the city of Boston was wrong to refuse an organization's request to fly a "Christian flag" in front of City Hall.

Justices on both the left and right seemed to favor Harold Shurtleff, a conservative activist and director of Camp Constitution, according to the Associated Press.

Outside of Boston's City Hall are three flag poles: one flying the United States flag, another flying the Massachusetts flag and the third, which typically flies the city flag. However, the city lowers that flag and replaces it with those of other groups to celebrate their causes, according to the American Bar Association's ABA Journal. Past approved flags flown on the third flag pole include those of Ireland, Portugal and Vietnam, and flags honoring LGBTQ+ pride and Juneteenth.

According to Mat Staver, who is representing Shurtleff, the city of Boston approved 284 flags and denied one, Camp Constitution's flag, the Liberty Council website reported.

Shurtleff had requested to raise the Camp Constitution flag, "the Christian flag" designed in 1897 to celebrate Boston's Judeo-Christian heritage, on Constitution Day on September 17, 2017, the ABA Journal reported.

Shurtleff sued the city in federal court after receiving the denial, and the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Boston, according to SCOTUS Blog. Shurtleff then asked the Supreme Court in June 2021 to hear his case, and it agreed.

 Harold Shurtleff Boston City Hall
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case on whether the city of Boston can stop a banner described as a "Christian flag" from flying over City Hall. Above, the Supreme Court is seen on January 18 in Washington, D.C. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The case hinges on whether the flag flying is designated free speech or an act of the government. If it's the latter, Boston can do what it wishes. However, if the Supreme Court determines that the flags function as free speech and are in a protest area, then turning people away could be considered discrimination, the AP reported.

In its arguments, the city has indicated that the flagpoles are a place for conveying messages, saying it only allows other groups to fly flags as community-building efforts.

On the city's website, its flag-raising rules indicate that "at no time will the city of Boston display flags deemed to be inappropriate or offensive in nature or those supporting discrimination, prejudice or religious movements."

The Biden administration and American Civil Liberties Union have both expressed support for Shurtleff, the AP added.

During the Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday, several justices indicated that the denial was a mistake, the AP reported, adding that Justice Elena Kagan asked, "Why is it that people have not been able to correct this mistake?"

Camp Constitution's mission, according to its website, "is to enhance understanding of our Judeo-Christian moral heritage, our American heritage of courage and ingenuity, including the genius of our United States Constitution."

The results of this case could affect free speech in other public forums.

"This is about much more than the Christian flag. This case will set national precedent and affect the free speech of every person. We must not give government the power to censor disfavored viewpoints in a public forum," Staver was quoted on the Liberty Council website.