SHURTLEFF ET AL. v. CITY OF BOSTON ET AL. | The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

"[W]hether the flags Boston allows others to fly express government speech, and whether Boston could, consistent with the Free Speech Clause, deny petitioners’ flag-raising request."

Action

"Boston’s flag-raising program does not express government speech."

Facts/Syllabus

"Just outside the entrance to Boston City Hall, on City Hall Plaza, stand three flagpoles. Boston flies the American flag from the first pole and the flag of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from the second. Boston usually flies the city’s own flag from the third pole. But Boston has, for years, allowed groups to hold ceremonies on the plaza during which participants may hoist a flag of their choosing on the third pole in place of the city’s flag. Between 2005 and 2017, Boston approved the raising of about 50 unique flags for 284 such ceremonies. Most of these flags were other countries’, but some were associated with groups or causes, such as the Pride Flag, a banner honoring emergency medical service workers, and others. In 2017, Harold Shurtleff, the director of an organization called Camp Constitution, asked to hold an event on the plaza to celebrate the civic and social contributions of the Christian community; as part of that ceremony, he wished to raise what he described as the “Christian flag.” The commissioner of Boston’s Property Management Department worried that flying a religious flag at City Hall could violate the Establishment Clause and found no past instance of the city’s having raised such a flag. He therefore told Shurtleff that the group could hold an event on the plaza but could not raise their flag during it. Shurtleff and Camp Constitution (petitioners) sued, claiming that Boston’s refusal to let them raise their flag violated, among other things, the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause."

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