Today the Supreme Court will hear Shurtleff v. City of Boston, a case concerning a request to fly a Christian flag on a government-owned flagpole outside of Boston City Hall. The case is highly anticipated and likely to set a consequential precedent for future cases concerning religious symbols on public property.
As a Youth Organizing Fellow and a citizen of Boston, I hold a personal stake in this case and adamantly affirm the importance of maintaining the separation of church and state. The city of Boston should not be required to amplify third-party religious views and provide a platform for religious symbolism directly in front of a major government building.
I am a student at a multi-denominational divinity school where I study alongside scholars and practitioners from a diverse set of religious backgrounds. Working in such multicultural spaces, I am privy to the beautiful religious pluralism Boston offers. From learning Hebrew with future rabbis to celebrating Diwali with my Hindu peers, my experiences in this city have enriched my life and taught me so much about the religious traditions of my neighbors.
The religious diversity of Boston, however, cannot be taken for granted. As the original “City on a Hill,” Massachusetts’ historical Puritan rule preached a strict, cruel practice of religious intolerance. I am haunted by this history every time I walk through the Boston Commons, where Mary Dyer was executed in 1660 because of her Quaker beliefs. Now a peaceful tourist attraction, the Boston Commons holds a unique spot in our country’s dark history of religious persecution. Mary Dyer – like so many others – perished because she did not conform to the religious views espoused by the government. But her death was not in vain.
Americans have fought hard to maintain the separation of church and state to protect religious minorities from prejudice and government coercion. In the face of unprecedented challenges to these protections, we must keep fighting.
As a citizen of Boston, to see a Christian flag flying outside of City Hall would be disturbing and demoralizing. I have seen the beauty of this city’s religious diversity firsthand. Religious minorities should be treated with dignity and deserve to be protected from growing Christian nationalist sentiment. Allowing a Christian flag to be flown on government property is a clear and present threat to these communities.
While I believe the government should not demonize religious expression, it should not provide a megaphone for it either. By maintaining the separation of church and state, we further strengthen religious freedom and diversity. To force an American city to display religious symbols on government property would be a disservice to both the current citizens and to the history of Boston itself.
Hannah Santos is a member of Americans United’s Youth Organizing Fellowship. She is a current Master of Theological Studies candidate at Harvard Divinity School and holds a B.A. in religious studies and history from Brown University.