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Free speech, religious freedom at stake in Supreme Court case over Christian flag

Across the country, cities fly LGBT flags, Black Lives Matter banners, and even the Mexican national flag over their government buildings.  But the city of Boston says you can’t fly a Christian flag. That’s when supporters of the Christian flag took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court this week heard oral arguments in that case and it could have wide-ranging implications for free speech and religious freedom.

Shurtleff v. City of Boston was filed when Boston resident Hal Shurtleff’s application to fly a flag outside Boston City Hall was rejected because it is described as a Christian flag. Shurtleff accused the city of violating his First Amendment right to free speech.

In 2017, Shurtleff and his Christian civic organization, Camp Constitution, asked the city for a permit to raise the Christian flag in honor of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. Between 2005 and 2017, Boston had permitted the raising of 284 flags by private organizations on a third flagpole outside City Hall. The previously permitted flags all had celebrated other countries, cultures and causes. The Christian flag reportedly was the only flag the city rejected.

“This case is so much bigger than a flag,” said Matt Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel says.  “It really involves whether the government can open a forum for a lot of different voices and then shut the door for Christian viewpoints. While Boston describes the third flagpole as a public forum, the city’s lawyers were expected to argue that the case is about government speech. In other words, the flagpole speaks on behalf of the city of Boston.”

This defies logic, he said, because Boston allows two competing Chinese organizations or individual groups to put opposite flags, both of the Chinese community, one pro-China, one anti-China, the other one pro-communism, the other one anti-communism.

“Boston cannot be pro-China one week, anti-China the next, pro-communism one week, anti-communism the next,” he said. “That’s classic free speech in a public forum; that’s not the speech of Boston.”

Shurtleff’s case has drawn the support of some unlikely allies, including the Biden administration and the American Civil Liberties Union, a group that typically opposes religious displays on government property.

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice