A unanimous Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Boston violated the free speech rights of a Christian group when it refused to allow them to fly a flag bearing the image of a cross on it from City Hall.
Justice Stephen Breyer, penning the 9-0 decision, said Boston discriminated against Camp Constitution and its director Harold Shurtleff, overturning a lower court’s ruling that the city did not infringe upon its right to free speech.
The decision 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 Boston’s flag.
But since 2005, the city has allowed the public to use the third flagpole to hoist other flags, noting that Pride Week, a community bank and emergency medical service workers have been marked by such flag-raising ceremonies.
Boston has allowed 50 flags to be raised at 284 ceremonies between 2005 and 2017, Breyer wrote, with no record of refusing a request.
Shurtleff and his group approached the city in 2017 seeking permission to fly a white banner with a red cross on a blue background known as the Christian flag.
Breyer, who is among the liberal wing of the court and who will retire about this term, said the issue comes down to whether flying 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 the flag raisings as private, not government, speech.”
Denying the request “discriminated based on religious viewpoint” and violated the First Amendment’s free speech protections, Breyer said.
With Post wires