Hey, there! Log in / Register

Justice Department sides with right winger who wants to fly a 'Christian' flag over City Hall Plaza

The Department of Justice says federal courts in Boston goofed in upholding the city of Boston's decision to bar an ex-Bircher who used to live in West Roxbury from flying what he considers a "Christian" flag from one of the three flagpoles in front of City Hall.

The amicus brief was filed in the case of Hal Shurtleff, who has been fighting since 2017 to run his flag up one of the poles, now with the help of a Florida law firm that specializes in fighting for its version of "religious freedom." The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on Jan. 18.

In a series of decisions between 2018 and 2020, a federal judge and the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston have sided with the city, declaring that, unlike City Hall Plaza, which is open to anybody, the flagpoles are not a "public forum" but rather a place for city government to exercise its own First Amendment rights, by deciding which flags fly, and so the city has a right to bar flags representing "discrimination, prejudice, or religious movements."

The Justice Department, however, argues that the way City Hall has run its program for allowing non-government flags to fly on one of the poles makes the poles a public forum: The city already lets private groups use one of them to promote events on City Hall Plaza, and barring Shurtleff, who runs a camp in New Hampshire to teach kids his views on the Constitution, is unconstitutional "viewpoint discrimination" based solely on the religious content of his proposed flag.

Most important, the City typically exercises no input into or control over the choice of flags or the content of the events at which they are raised. Instead, the City has made its flagpole generally available to a variety of private groups, approving all 284 applications it received in the twelve years before this case arose - usually without even reviewing the flags. This Court's decisions make clear that a government creates a forum for private speech where, as here, it seeks to foster a diversity of views from private speakers. And the Court has also held that the resulting speech remains private even if the government seeks to exclude religious speakers or other specific viewpoints.

The brief continues:

Although historically flags have often been used to convey government messages, the specific history of the City’s flag-raising program is quite different because the City has opened its flagpole to a wide variety of private groups. And for the same reason, the public would not reasonably attribute the flags flown during frequent private flag-raising events to the City - just as they would not reasonably attribute to the City the messages conveyed by the associated events on the plaza below. Finally, the flags are flown only temporarily and remain the property of the private parties.

And if you let one group use a flagpole, you can't simply deny another:

The City denied the application only because petitioners' flag was described as religious. This Court has long held that denying access to an otherwise-available forum simply because of the religious nature of the speech is viewpoint discrimination. The City cannot generally open its flagpole to flags from private civic and social groups while excluding otherwise-similar groups with religious views.

This is especially true, the federal government says, because nobody in Boston would think that the government is promoting a particular group or religion with that one pole, in particular because many of the flags are for groups that are using City Hall Plaza for an event that day.

And, the government continues, unlike in other "government speech" cases, the city of Boston doesn't even take ownership of the flags in question, but lets the sponsoring groups retrieve them at the end of the day.

The Justice Department says the city could turn the pole into an outlet for protected government speech through a couple of different means. It could, for example, limit its use to the flags of sovereign nations, such as the ones it typically flies when a foreign dignitary is visiting or on a particular country's national day. Or it could limit flags to promote events that the city itself is sponsoring, similar to the way the National Park Service can prevent extremist groups from demanding space or speaking time at events it sponsors in parks in Washington.

The amicus brief is one of 17 filed so far in the case

Neighborhoods: 
Topics: 

Ad:
Like the job UHub is doing? Consider a contribution. Thanks!

Comments

So if I wanted to fly a flag that said something to the effect of "F Hal Shurtleff!", in theory it has to be approved?

up
20

You may have to use that as a founding tenet of your new religion, which doesn't exactly sound like a dealbreaker.

up
20

to that religion, although I wish we could have a Satanist flag simultaneously, for balance.

up
10

How about religious groups start paying taxes and stop dragging our society back to the stone ages first.

up
76

***How about religious groups start paying taxes...

Feel free to change the constitution. Go ahead.

Nothing in the constitution prevents religious organizations from being taxed, provided they are all taxed in the same way.

Now is the time for the Satanic Temple to thank Hal for paving the way for them to fly their flag.

up
21

…. Xtians and atheists can all get along. Or not.

I’ll thank Hal.

How fast is this policy gonna change now? Or will they just dig in their heels?

Where does Wu stand on the flagpole issue?

Why don’t you ask her

Paranoia paranoia everybodys tryin to get me

up
12

This is where the slippery slope leads. I have long said City Hall has got to stop flying all these little fiefdom flags at the drop of a hat. Puerto Rican flags, Haitian Flags, LGBTQIA+ flags. What do any of them have to do with anything? If we are a welcoming nation, as I hope we are or aspire to be, let us all be welcome under one flag and not all these divisive and separate little fiefdoms.

up
23

If we are a welcoming nation

We're not. Ask people in any of what you derisively call "fiefdoms".

up
21

I'm in one of those groups, as a gay man. I don't think we need a "rainbow flag". We're not a country, for heaven's sake. I'll let you in on a secret, we're not even particularly organized. Don't tell anybody. The world thinks we all think and act the same way and share the same political beliefs.

up
10

The city already lets private groups use one of them to promote events on City Hall Plaza

So they either stop doing that, or it's a free for all?

I say we stop letting private groups use the flagpole. Just fly actual flags. Thanks creepy religious dude, for ruining it for all of us.

up
10

The same reasoning will give local white supremacists a right to fly their flag.

On the other hand flying these flags can also result in other unintended consequences. Shurtleff wants attention. This is part of his marketing. That visibility permits greater attention to his goals.

A sentence published by Shurtleff on his website:

So why are people
being vaccinated for a virus that has an over 99% recovery rate without
vaccination?

The implication is that Covid has a recovery rate of 99% without vaccination. How many parents, children and siblings now mourn the loved ones removed from this world by Covid like death walking through the world with a scythe?

How does Shurtleff reconcile the 99% recovery rate against millions of deaths? Millions of deaths because people did not recover?

His website is a rich resource of conspiracy theories and other tabloid like stories. He even instructs his readers on the proper way to teach mathematics?

Shurtleff's flag represents his opinions. The flag is his; there is no official Christian flag. He wants to fly a flag that represents his opinions. Does a city have an obligation to allow public space to be used by a person who spreads false propaganda?

No court has never stated that the 1st Amendment is absolute. The classic case that screaming fire in a crowded theater solely for the sake of causing a panic is not protected by the 1st Amendment. Even Scalia agreed that the 2nd Amendment can NOT be construed to give absolute rights regarding firearms. Putting graffiti on public property is not protected by the 1st Amendment.

Shurtleff's cloaking himself in a religious robe - an abuse of a privilege - does not give him the right to spread or represent in a public setting statements and believes that are false.

up
21

a "99% recovery rate" means that this thing kills 1% of the people it touches. Anything that kills 1% of the people it touches is extremely dangerous.

up
18

The Christian flag has been around for while: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Flag

One of the latest posts on the Camp Constitution blog is titled "The Weekly Sam: Did the KGB Assassinate John Kennedy?".

Nice.

wants to fly the flag of Moronika.

It's an image of a resident permit parking sign with a big red "no" symbol over it.

Politics and religion (*sigh* with eyeballs rolling). Religous flags should not be in a place called "Government Center" .

Religous flags should not be in a place called "Government Center" .

Agreed, but we live in a Christian supremacist country and that ship has sailed.

I don't see that argument standing on its own.

What's in a name, really? If I don't like a church in my neighborhood, can I name my house "Government Center" and then sue to have them closed? Obviously that's not the way the law works.