By MARK SHERMAN – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — A unanimous Supreme Court ruled Monday that Boston violated a conservative activist’s free speech rights by denying his request to fly a Christian flag from a flagpole outside the hotel. of town.
Judge Stephen Breyer wrote for the court that the city had discriminated against activist Harold Shurtleff because of his “religious viewpoint”, even though it had regularly approved requests for the use of one of three flagpoles outside City Hall that fly the United States, Massachusetts and Boston flags.
Sometimes the city takes down its own pennant and temporarily hoists another flag.
Shurtleff and his Camp Constitution wanted to fly a white banner with a red cross on a blue background in the upper left corner, called the Christian flag, to mark Constitution Day, September 17, 2017.
The city had approved 284 consecutive requests to fly flags, usually those of other nations, before rejecting Shurtleff’s because it was a Christian flag. The city said he could fly a different banner, but Shurtleff refused, and the lower courts upheld the city’s decision.
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But the high court said the lower courts and the city were wrong. The case hinged on whether the unfurling of the flag is an act of the government, in which case Boston can do whatever it wants, or private parties like Shurtleff, Breyer wrote.
“Finally, we examine the extent to which Boston actively controlled these flag raisings and shaped the messages sent by the flags. The answer, it seems, is no. And that is the most salient feature of this matter,” Breyer wrote in a review that also drew on the Brutalist architectural style of Boston City Hall and the Siena, Italy-inspired 7-acre plaza on which it sits.
Breyer wrote that “the city’s lack of meaningful involvement in the selection of flags or the crafting of their messages leads us to classify flag raisings as private, nongovernmental speeches, though nothing prevents Boston from change its policies in the future”.
The city said that in the event of a Supreme Court defeat, it would likely change its policy to better control which flags can be flown.
Shurtleff is a former John Birch Society organizer and used his Camp Constitution website to question the January 6 insurrection in the United States Capitol, the outcome of the 2020 election that put President Joe Biden in power, the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and even who was behind the 9/11 attacks.
None of this was in issue in the high court.
The case is Shurtleff v. Boston, 20-1800.
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