Christian Flag SCOTUS Ruling Is Having an Impact

Jun 20, 2022

Liberty Counsel’s 9-0 victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in Shurtleff v. City of Boston issued on May 2, 2022, involving censorship of Christian viewpoints, specifically the Christian flag, is already having an impact across the nation, especially during June. 

The High Court unanimously ruled that the City of Boston violated the Constitution by censoring a private flag in a public forum open to “all applicants” merely because the application referred to it as a “Christian flag.” The High Court stated that it is not government speech, and because the government admitted it censored the flag because it was referred to as a Christian flag on the application, the censorship was viewpoint discrimination, and there is no Establishment Clause defense.

As a result of this ruling, the city council in Bristol, Connecticut, unanimously voted last week to allow only U.S. and state flags to be flown on municipal property. Several towns, including Southington, have voted to adopt similar policies recently. 

Mayor Jeff Caggiano told The Bristol Press, “We don’t want to discriminate against anybody and we also don't want to put the city in jeopardy for freedom of speech violations if we agree to fly one flag and not another. There was recently a case in Boston where this happened.” 

Caggiano also stated that the Bristol Veterans Council could also designate appropriate military flags that could also be flown on Memorial Boulevard and in local parks. 

On the other hand, in La Mesa, California Mayor Mark Arapostathis seems to be ignoring the Supreme Court ruling and setting up that city for a potential lawsuit that could be very costly. 

La Mesa is flying the rainbow flag again this month after a proclamation and proposal from Mayor Arapostathis. The proposal will make every June in La Mesa “LGBTQ+ Month” and will allow a “representative flag” to be flown all month. Arapostathis told The San Diego Union Tribune, “I'm always in favor of trying to make people feel that they belong.” 

However, the proposal to keep raising a flag every year “in honor of the LGBTQ community” raised questions at the recent city council meeting whether the city should fly anything beyond standards representing the city, state and nation. Those opposing the proposal stated that the rainbow flag needlessly excluded other residents and makes the council a “flagpole gatekeeper” and opens the city up to lawsuits. One person even noted Liberty Counsel’s case, Shurtleff v. City of Boston. 

Apparently other communities in the region, including Imperial Beach, National City and Chula Vista, have also decided to support Pride Month by flying the rainbow flag. But other cities around the nation have decided not to fly the rainbow flag. Allowing one viewpoint and censoring another violates the First Amendment.

Liberty Counsel represented Boston resident Hal Shurtleff and his Christian civic organization, Camp Constitution. Shurtleff and Camp Constitution first asked the city in 2017 for a permit to raise the Christian flag on Boston City Hall flagpoles to commemorate Constitution Day and Citizenship Day (September 17) and the civic and cultural contributions of the Christian community to the City of Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, religious tolerance, the Rule of Law and the U.S. Constitution.  

There are three flagpoles outside City Hall that fly the U.S., Massachusetts and Boston flags, plus a fourth flag on Congress Street, which runs parallel to City Hall. For 12 years from 2005-2017, Boston approved 284 flag-raisings by private organizations with no denials on the flagpoles that it designated as a “public forum.” Had the flag been referred to as anything but Christian, the city would have approved it. The flag itself was not the problem; it was the word “Christian” describing it in the application that was the issue. The year before Camp Constitution’s application (2016-2017), Boston approved 39 private flag-raising events, which averaged three per month. In 2018, Boston approved 50 private flag raising events, averaging nearly one per week. One included a flag of a private credit union. 

Justice Breyer wrote the opinion in which Chief Justice Roberts, Sotomayor, Kagan, Kavanaugh, and Barrett joined. Justice Kavanaugh filed a concurring opinion. Justice Alito filed a concurring opinion in the judgment, in which Thomas and Gorsuch joined. Justice Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion in the judgment, in which Thomas joined. 

The High Court wrote that “Boston’s refusal to let Shurtleff and Camp Constitution raise their flag based on its religious viewpoint ‘abridg[ed]’ their ‘freedom of speech.’” 

In addition, the Court wrote, that Boston’s “refusal discriminated based on religious viewpoint and violated the Free Speech Clause’” (emphasis added). 

Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “This 9-0 decision from the Supreme Court involving the Christian flag is having an impact across the nation. The clear message from the Supreme Court is that government must not discriminate based on viewpoint. The government cannot favor one viewpoint and censor another. Every government should reconsider their flag policies in light of Shurtleff v. City of Boston. Government cannot censor religious viewpoints under the guise of government speech and yet some local governments are ignoring this ruling and setting themselves up for potential lawsuits.” 

For more information on the case, visit www.LC.org/flag. 



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