Thursday, August 30, 2018

Court Will Not Order Group's Christian Flag Displayed On City Flag Pole

In Shurtleff v. City of Boston, (D MA, Aug. 29, 2018), a Massachusetts federal district court refused to grant a preliminary injunction against the city's policy of refusing to fly non-secular flags from City Hall flagpoles.  Plaintiffs sought to fly a "Christian flag” from the city's pole in conjunction with a Constitution Day and Citizenship Day event.  Rejecting plaintiffs' free speech argument, the court said in part:
If the flags are government speech, as Defendants assert, “then the Free Speech Clause has no application” and the City may “select the views that it wants to express.” ... In contrast, if the flags are private speech displayed in a limited public forum, as Plaintiffs argue, the restriction on non-secular flags must be reasonable and viewpoint neutral.... This Court concludes that the selection and display of the flags on the City flagpole constitute government speech. Moreover, even if they did not constitute government speech, the Court finds that the City’s restriction on non-secular flags satisfies the constitutional requirements for limitations on speech in a limited public forum....
The City’s policy is ... reasonable based on the City’s interest in avoiding the appearance of endorsing a particular religion and a consequential violation of the Establishment Clause.... Moreover, ... [in suggesting] the opportunity to conduct their event on City Hall Plaza, fly a secular flag on the City flagpole or display the Christian flag on City Hall Plaza but not on the City flagpole, the City has demonstrated reasonableness and that it does not seek to silence Plaintiffs. 
The court also rejected Establishment Clause and Equal Protection challenges. Boston Globe reports on the decision.