September 2019 Church & State Magazine - September 2019

Boston Does Not Have To Fly Religious Flag, Court Says

  Rob Boston

Officials in Boston were not required to fly a Christian flag to mark a private event, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The case arose after Harold Shurtleff in 2017 demanded the right to fly a Christian flag to publicize Camp Constitution, an event he held to promote the idea of America’s “Judeo-Christian” heritage.

Boston officials allowed Shurtleff to hold the event at City Hall Plaza but declined to fly the flag. Shurtleff sued, alleging that a flagpole at the plaza has in the past been used to fly the flags of other nations and flags of private organizations. City officials told Shurtleff that they don’t fly “non-secular” flags from the city-owned pole.

The court ruled in Shurtleff v. City of Boston that the flagpole in question was not a forum for all forms of free speech.

“As we have noted before, the City strictly controls which third-party flags are raised on the City Hall pole, with the Commissioner of Property Management screening all proposed flags for ‘consisten[cy]’ with the City’s message, policies, and practices,” observed the court. “The City has articulated a policy of not flying non-secular flags in place of the City flag and its rejection of Shurt­leff’s flag-flying request is consistent with that policy.”

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