By MARK SHERMAN
WASHINGTON (AP) – A unanimous Supreme Court ruled Monday that Boston violated the freedom of speech of a Conservative activist when it rejected his request to fly a Christian flag on a flagpole outside City Hall.
Judge Stephen Breyer wrote in court that the city discriminated against the activist, Harold Shurtleff, because of his “religious point of view,” even though it had routinely approved applications to use one of the three flagpoles outside City Hall flying in the United States, Massachusetts. and the Boston flag.
Occasionally the city takes down its own pennant and temporarily hoists another flag.
Shurtleff and his camp constitution wanted to fly a white banner with a red cross on a blue background in the upper left corner, called the Christian flag, to mark Constitution Day on September 17, 2017.
The city had approved 284 consecutive flag applications, usually other nations’ flags, before rejecting Shurtleffs because it was a Christian flag. The city said he could fly another banner, but Shurtleff refused, and lower courts upheld the city’s decision.
But the district court said the lower courts and the city were wrong. The case depended on whether the flag-raising is an act of the government, in which case Boston can do whatever it wants, or private parties like Shurtleff, Breyer wrote.
“Finally, we look at the extent to which Boston actively controlled these flag hoists and shaped the messages the flags sent. The answer is apparently not at all. And that is the most striking feature of this case,” Breyer wrote in a statement that also spoke. about the brutalist architectural style of Boston City Hall and the Siena, Italy-inspired 7-acre square on which it is located.
Breyer wrote that “the city’s lack of meaningful involvement in flag selection or the shaping of their messages leads us to classify flag hoisting as private, not state, speech – though nothing prevents Boston from changing its policy going forward.”
The city has said that in the event of a loss at the Supreme Court, it will likely change its policy to take more control over which flags can fly.
Shurtleff is a former organizer of the John Birch Society and has used his Camp Constitution website to question the January 6 uprising at the US Capitol, the result of the 2020 election that put President Joe Biden in office, the impact of COVID -19 vaccines and even who was behind the 9/11 attacks.
None of that was at issue in the High Court.
The case is Shurtleff v. Boston, 20-1800.