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Supreme Court ruling on free speech

On May 2, the United States Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in favor of Shurtleff and Camp Constitution in their case against Boston. The case was over a dispute about raising a flag in front of Boston City Hall during a ceremony Camp Constitution was holding for the day.

In front of the Boston City Hall, there are three flag poles. The first always holds the American flag and the second holds the flag for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. However, for the third flag pole, Boston allowed different organizations to submit a request to have their flag raised while they had ceremonies in the plaza located just outside of City Hall.

This began in 2005 and continued until the incident that caused this case in 2017. During this time 284 different ceremonies took place in the City Hall Plaza and over 50 different flags flew from the third flag pole of City Hall.

Most of these different flags were flags from other countries, but some were for specific groups like the pride flag, a banner honoring emergency medical service workers or others.

In 2017, Harold Shurtleff, the director of an organization called Camp Constitution asked to hold an event in the City Hall Plaza and to have their flag raised on the third flag pole.

Camp Constitution is a Judeo-Christian camp that, according to its mission statement, “enhances understanding of our Judeo-Christian moral heritage, our American heritage of courage and ingenuity.”

The commissioner of Boston’s Property Management Department worried that raising a religious flag would violate the establishment clause. This clause prohibits the government from making any law to establish an official religion for a state or town. He also saw that no other religious flag had been raised and so they denied the request from Shurtleff.

Shurtleff and Camp Constitution then sued, claiming that this denial of their request to raise their flag infringed on the First Amendment right to free speech. After reaching the Supreme Court, the court ruled 9-0 in favor of Shurtleff and Camp Constitution.

According to the United States Supreme Court Statements, “For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that Boston’s flag-raising program does not express government speech. As a result, the city’s refusal to let Shurtleff and Camp Constitution fly their flag based on its religious viewpoint violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. We reverse the First Circuit’s contrary judgment and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

In order to find out what this ruling will mean for both the United States government and religions, John Thomas, a religious freedom professor, was asked about this case.

“It has the same religious freedom implications a lot of recent cases have had,” Thomas said. “Governments should not discriminate against religion. That is the new norm.”


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