Government / Politics

Supreme Court to hear case over displaying religious flag at Boston City hall

In 2017 Boston denied a request to fly the Christian flag.

Displaying flags at government buildings is not a small town matter after all. 

According to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Sept. 30 order list, it agreed to hear a case, Shurtleff, Harold, et al. vs the city of Boston, in which a religious group sued the city after its request to fly the Christian Flag outside Boston City Hall was denied. 

In July 2017 the Christian group called Camp Constitution requested to fly a white flag with a red cross and a blue square on the upper left corner. Boston rejected the request because it was the first flag related to religion, according to the Court of Appeals decision. 

“Concluding, as we do, that the government speech doctrine bars the maintenance of the plaintiffs’ free speech claims and that their remaining claims under the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause lack bite, we affirm,” states the United States Court of Appeals for the district of Massachusetts in its Jan. 22 decision. 

According to a “questions presented” document from the Supreme Court, the flagpole was designated as a public forum where, from 2005-17, the city approved 284 flag raisings by private organizations with zero denials. 

The Supreme Court, however, also states though the flag is identified as a Christian flag, “other than a common Latin cross on the flag itself, there is nothing to identify the flag as a ‘Christian’ flag.”

Among the three questions raised by the Supreme Court is whether government speech includes displaying a religious flag on a city flagpole unconstitutionally expands the government speech doctrine and whether approving the request transforms the religious organization’s private speech into government speech.

According to news reports, the Supreme Court is likely to hear arguments early next year and issue a ruling in the summer. 

The Hollister City Council approved an application to fly the Christian flag on its unity pole on Sept. 20. It wasn’t a rubber stamp decision, however, as the City Council requested an opinion from the California attorney general. Before the opinion was issued, Councilman Rolan Resendiz changed his mind and provided the third vote needed to approve the application submitted by Councilman Rick Perez. 

Displaying flags has been a point of contention for the City Council and the public, including flags representing the LGBTQ community and law enforcement, though all have been approved. Earlier this year the city spent $12,500 on a third flagpole in front of City Hall referred to as the unity pole. 

The challenge of dealing with flag requests has been such that council adopted and then rescinded its flagpole policy within a four-month period. 


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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is BenitoLink Co-Editor and Content Manager. He joined BenitoLink as reporter intern and was soon brought on staff as a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily. He is a USC Center for Health Journalism 2020 California Fellow.