May 24, 2022

Supreme Court sides with Christian group seeking to fly flag at Boston City Hall

The false interpretation of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment has led to many attacks against Christian speech and symbolism in the public square. A new decision could mean the tide is turning.

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with a Christian group that was denied the right to hang a banner with a Latin cross at Boston’s City Hall Plaza, the Daily Caller reported. Monday’s unanimous decision determined that the city violated the group’s First Amendment rights.

City Plaza has flagpoles that each typically fly the American flag, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts flag, and a third pole reserved for other groups. Though Boston has permitted some 50 other groups’ flags to be flown for nearly 300 ceremonial events between 2005 and 2017, the Christian group Camp Constitution was denied its request.

The city cited the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from endorsing or establishing a particular religion. However, the Christian group saw this as an affront to its own First Amendment rights to freely exercise religion, and the matter became the Shurtleff v. City of Boston case.

On Monday, the court sided with Camp Constitution in determining that Boston violated the group’s rights. “Because the flag-raising program did not express government speech, Boston’s refusal to let petitioners fly their flag violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the opinion.

“When the government does not speak for itself, it may not exclude private speech based on ‘religious viewpoint’; doing so ‘constitutes impermissible viewpoint discrimination.'” Breyer added. The city never disputed that it turned down the request on the basis that it “promot[ed] a specific religion.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh agreed in a concurring opinion that “a government does not violate the Establishment Clause” when it treats religious and secular organizations the same. “On the contrary, a government violates the Constitution when (as here) it excludes religious persons, organizations, or speech because of religion from public programs, benefits, facilities, and the like.”

Boston violated the group’s rights while pretending to safeguard its own. This is a recurring pattern, but now that rationale won’t hold up in the high court.

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