WASHINGTON (AP), Monday's unanimous Supreme Court ruling found Boston in violation of the free speech rights a conservative activist when it denied his request to fly a Christian Flag on a flagpole outside City Hall.
Justice Stephen Breyer claimed that the city discriminated against Harold Shurtleff because of his "religious perspective," even though it routinely approved applications to use one of three flagpoles outside City Hall which fly the U.S. flag, the Massachusetts flag, and the Boston flag.
Sometimes, the city will temporarily raise another flag while taking down its pennant.
Shurtleff wanted his Camp Constitution to fly a white banner featuring a red cross on blue background in the upper right corner. This was the Christian flag. It was to commemorate Constitution Day, Sept. 17th 2017.
After approving 284 consecutive flag flying applications, most of them from other countries, the city rejected Shurtleff’s application because it was a Christian banner. Shurtleff declined to fly another banner and the city's decision was upheld by lower courts.
The high court ruled that the lower courts and city were incorrect. Breyer wrote that the case was about whether flag-flying is an official act of government. In which case Boston would be free to do what it likes, while Shurtleff and private parties could not.
Breyer stated that the city's inability to meaningfully participate in the selection of flags and the crafting of messages led us to classify flag raisings as private speech, not government speech. However, Boston can change its policies moving forward.
According to the city, it will likely change its policy regarding what flags are allowed to fly in the event of a defeat at the Supreme Court.
Shurtleff was a former organizer for the John Birch Society. He has used his Camp Constitution website as a platform to question the Jan. 6, insurgent at the U.S. Capitol and the outcome of President Joe Biden's 2020 election.
All of this was not up for debate at the high court.
Shurtleff V. Boston, 20-1800.