Hate Group Wins “Christian Flag” Case Before SCOTUS

NBC News reports:

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that the city of Boston violated the Constitution when it refused to let a local organization fly a Christian flag in front of city hall.

While the case had religious overtones, the decision was fundamentally about free speech rights. The court said the city created a public forum, open to all comers, when it allowed organizations to use a flagpole in front of City Hall for commemorative events. Denying the same treatment for the Christian flag was a violation of free expression, it said.

“When the government encourages diverse expression — say, by creating a forum for debate — the First Amendment prevents it from discriminating against speakers based on their viewpoint,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the decision.

CNN reports:

The case was filed in 2018 after a Boston official denied the application by the group Camp Constitution to raise a flag — described as “Christian” in the application — on one of the three flagpoles outside Boston’s city hall. The group is an all-volunteer association that seeks to “enhance understanding of the country’s Judeo-Christian moral heritage.”

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, said that though the court relied upon “history, the public’s perception of who is speaking, and the extent to which the government has exercised control over speech” to determine that the flag-raising program did not amount to government speech, he would have analyzed the case based on a more exacting definition of what constitutes government speech.

Under a more narrow definition of government speech, Alito wrote that it occurs “if — but only if” a government “purposefully expresses a message of its own through persons authorized to speak on its behalf.”

USA Today reports:

“This case is so much more significant than a flag,” said Mathew Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal group that represented Camp Constitution. “Boston openly discriminated against viewpoints it disfavored when it opened the flagpoles to all applicants and then excluded Christian viewpoints.”

Boston said it worried that losing the case would mean it might someday be required to fly a flag from a neo-Nazi group or an al-Qaida flag. Another option: The city could avoid flying flags inconsistent with its views by not flying any third-party flags in the first place.