The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in the latest religious freedom case over whether a city violated the First Amendment by refusing to raise a flag outside of city hall from a private religious organization.
The case, Shurtleff v. Boston, was brought forward by petitioner Harold Shurtleff, who runs Camp Constitution, which seeks "to enhance the understanding of the country’s Judeo-Christian moral heritage."
The group applied to the city of Boston to temporarily fly a flag in front of city hall during a flag-raising event in 2017. Boston denied the group's request.
Boston City Hall has three flag poles. The U.S. and the POW/MIA flags are always on one pole and another always displays the Massachusetts flag. A third pole has the city flag, and people are free to apply to have a different flag temporarily replace that one, Oyez reports.
Over the last 12 years, Boston Property Management Department Commissioner Gregory Rooney has approved 284 flag-raising events. Oyez states he "never denied a flag-raising application" until Shurtleff. Cuban and Chinese flags have been raised in front of Boston City Hall, as well as the LGBT rainbow flag, the Juneteenth flag and the transgender rights flag.
Rooney argued that he denied the flag because the city "maintains a policy and practice of respectfully refraining from flying non-secular flags." He said he was concerned about the separation of church and state and did not want to promote a specific religion at City Hall.
"His concern was not with the flag itself, but that on the application, it was called a ‘Christian flag.’ Rooney wouldn’t have been concerned if the same flag was called ‘the Camp Constitution flag’ because then ‘it would have been the flag of the organization and not a religious symbol,'" the petition states.
The district court sided with the city, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circut affirmed the decision of the lower court.