News Update

Supreme Court rules in favor of conservative activist in Christian flag case

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The Supreme Court unanimously sided with conservative activist Harold Shurtleff in his lawsuit against the city of Boston over his request to fly a Christian flag outside City Hall. The request was made to commemorate Constitution Day on Sept. 17, 2017. The city rejected his request.

“Because the flag-raising program did not express government speech, Boston’s refusal to let petitioners fly their flag violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment,” the court wrote in its ruling. “When the government does not speak for itself, it may not exclude private speech based on ‘religious viewpoint’; doing so ‘constitutes impermissible viewpoint discrimination.'”

Occasionally, the city takes its own flag down outside of city hall and temporarily hoists another flag. The city had approved 284 consecutive applications to fly flags, usually those of other nations, before it rejected Shurtleff’s request. Lower courts sided with the city in Shurtleff’s lawsuit. At question was whether the flag-raising program is an act of the government.

“If the former, Boston is free to choose the flags it flies without the constraints of the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in one of his final opinions before he is set to step down from the court in June. “If the latter, the Free Speech Clause prevents Boston from refusing a flag based on its viewpoint.”

While Monday’s ruling on the flag case may not have as wide ranging a precedent as other Supreme Court cases, it does following a trend of the current court siding with Christian individuals and groups. In March, the court ruled Texas must grant a death row inmate his request to have his Christian pastor lay hands on him and audibly pray during his execution.

The court is expected to rule on two more cases involving Christians before the end of its current session in June. In the first, two Christian families in Maine challenged a tuition assistance program that excludes private schools that promote religious beliefs. In the other, the court signaled it would side with a Christian former high school football coach in Washington state who refused to stop praying on the field after games.

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The Supreme Court unanimously sided with conservative activist Harold Shurtleff in his lawsuit against the city of Boston over his request to fly a Christian flag outside City Hall. The request was made to commemorate Constitution Day on Sept. 17, 2017. The city rejected his request.

“Because the flag-raising program did not express government speech, Boston’s refusal to let petitioners fly their flag violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment,” the court wrote in its ruling. “When the government does not speak for itself, it may not exclude private speech based on ‘religious viewpoint’; doing so ‘constitutes impermissible viewpoint discrimination.'”

Occasionally, the city takes its own flag down outside of city hall and temporarily hoists another flag. The city had approved 284 consecutive applications to fly flags, usually those of other nations, before it rejected Shurtleff’s request. Lower courts sided with the city in Shurtleff’s lawsuit. At question was whether the flag-raising program is an act of the government.

“If the former, Boston is free to choose the flags it flies without the constraints of the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in one of his final opinions before he is set to step down from the court in June. “If the latter, the Free Speech Clause prevents Boston from refusing a flag based on its viewpoint.”

While Monday’s ruling on the flag case may not have as wide ranging a precedent as other Supreme Court cases, it does following a trend of the current court siding with Christian individuals and groups. In March, the court ruled Texas must grant a death row inmate his request to have his Christian pastor lay hands on him and audibly pray during his execution.

The court is expected to rule on two more cases involving Christians before the end of its current session in June. In the first, two Christian families in Maine challenged a tuition assistance program that excludes private schools that promote religious beliefs. In the other, the court signaled it would side with a Christian former high school football coach in Washington state who refused to stop praying on the field after games.

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