Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser issued the following statement in response to the Supreme Court’s narrow decision today in Shurtleff v. City of Boston that the city had created a limited public forum by allowing the flags of private organizations to be displayed on city flagpoles, and that First Amendment free speech protections therefore required the city to allow the Christian flag:
“Because the court found the flags were private, not government, speech, Boston no longer has a say in which flags can be flown at city hall. This decision doesn’t change the Constitution’s requirements that the government cannot promote, favor, endorse or sponsor religion.
“Nevertheless, this ruling could undermine church-state separation if it is abused in ways that end up favoring the dominant religious majority. But governments might avoid that by closing the forum at any time, as the court noted. Additionally, the flags flying above city hall would have been government speech if Boston had stated so in a policy or exercised more discretion in deciding which flags to display. Other governments might take that path.
“If a government permits this access to the majority religion, others are equally entitled to display their beliefs or non-belief, too. This decision is a reminder that groups representing religious minorities and nontheists must be given equal access to these kinds of public forums to display their own symbols.
“There are some alarming aspects about the organization pushing to fly the Christian flag at Boston City Hall. The group is dedicated to teaching ‘the next generation … with the knowledge of how America was founded as a Christian nation.’ That is Christian nationalism, which is a direct threat to church-state separation and our democracy.”
Americans United, joined by the National Council of Churches and 17 other religious and civil-rights organizations, filed an amicus brief in the case in December, urging the Supreme Court to protect religious freedom by affirming that the City of Boston should not be forced to display the Christian flag on a city hall flagpole.
Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Associate Vice President of Communications