A unanimous Supreme Court ruled Monday that Boston violated the free speech rights of a Christian group by refusing to allow them to fly a flag bearing the image of a cross from City Hall.
Judge Stephen Breyer, who wrote the 9-0 ruling, said Boston discriminated against Camp Constitution and its manager, Harold Shurtleff, reversing a lower court’s ruling that the city had not infringed his right to freedom of expression.
The ruling pointed out that there are three flagpoles at City Hall – one flies the American flag, another the flag of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the third is usually used for the flag of Boston.
But since 2005, the city has allowed the public to use the third flagpole to raise other flags, noting that Pride Week, a community bank and emergency medical service workers have been marked by such flag-raising ceremonies. .
Boston allowed 50 flags to be raised at 284 ceremonies between 2005 and 2017, Breyer wrote, with no record of the request being denied.
Shurtleff and his group approached the city in 2017 asking permission to fly a white banner with a red cross on a blue background known as the Christian flag.
Breyer, who is on the liberal wing of the court and will retire after this term, said the question comes down to whether the flying of the flag is an act of government or a private matter involving Shurtleff.
He wrote that Boston’s “lack of meaningful involvement in the selection of flags or the crafting of their messages leads us to classify flag raisings as private, nongovernmental speeches.”
Denying the claim “discriminated against on the basis of a religious perspective” and violated First Amendment free speech protections, Breyer said.
With post wires