The U.S. Supreme Court today continued an ominous trend in agreeing to take an appeal regarding a demand that a Christian flag be flown over Boston City Hall.
The high court announced that it will hear the case, Shurtleff v. City of Boston, which will determine whether the city violated the free speech clause by refusing to fly a Christian group’s blatantly sectarian flag.
The organization, called Camp Constitution, had demanded that the city display the Christian flag, which features a blue rectangle in the corner with a blood-red Latin cross. This is the same flag that was paraded by Christian nationalists, intermingled with symbols of white supremacy, during the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, FFRF points out.
Today’s development signals there are at least four justices on the high court who disagree with the appeals court’s reasoning in the case, which held that flags on the city’s flagpoles constitute government speech. Therefore, the city is “entitled to select the views that it wants to express,” the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, quoting a 2009 Supreme Court case.
Boston’s City Hall has three flagpoles, one that flies the U.S. flag along with the POW/MIA flag, one that flies the Massachusetts flag and a third flagpole flying the city flag. Occasionally, another flag replaces the city flag with city approval for limited periods of time. The Supreme Court seems inclined to hand over that space for an obviously majoritarian religious display.
“The conservative justices who control the Supreme Court continue to take cases that advance Christian privilege,” warns FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert. “It is not clear why the court felt that this case merited a spot on the court’s limited docket.”
The composition of the plaintiffs’ team leaves much to be desired. Camp Constitution’s purpose is “to enhance understanding of the country’s Judeo-Christian moral heritage.” Liberty Counsel, which is representing the plaintiffs, is a Christian nationalist outfit that has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“The Supreme Court’s action today is frankly shocking and alarming,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Boston is not a Christian city, and the United States is not a Christian nation. Clearly no American city ought to fly a Christian flag at its seat of government.”
Gaylor notes that the high court’s recent troubling actions, including its failure to help Texas women exercise their constitutional right to abortion and its shadow docket rulings privileging religion, show why court correction and reform is crucial if civil liberties are to survive the Trump high court.
FFRF had previously joined a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the city’s position and it is considering filing a brief with the Supreme Court. The state/church watchdog will host its 44th annual convention in Boston this November.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.