What Christians Should Know About Shurtleff v. Boston

Allowing displays of faith in the public square is not an establishment of religion.

What is this case about?

The City of Boston manages three flagpoles in front of its City Hall. Typically, those flagpoles fly the American flag and the POW/MIA flag on one flagpole, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts flag on the second, and Boston’s own local flag on the third. The City occasionally, upon request and approval, will fly another flag for a brief period of time rather than Boston’s flag, typically in conjunction with an event happening at City Hall.

In 2017, Harold Shurtleff, through his organization, Camp Constitution, petitioned to host an event at Boston City Hall, raise a Christian flag, and have members of the clergy speak about the religious history of Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Constitution. 

The City denied Camp Constitution’s request to fly the Christian flag. Following this denial, Camp Constitution sued the City of Boston claiming a violation of the organization’s First Amendment rights. Both the district court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit have ruled in favor of the City.

How is the ERLC advocating in this case?

The ERLC joined an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to rule in favor of Camp Constitution. In our brief, we argue that the City of Boston is violating the Free Exercise Clause and Establishment Clause and is wrongly discriminating against the speech of a religious organization.

Why does this case matter for Southern Baptists?

Southern Baptists have a long tradition of advocating for religious liberty. While Baptists rightly recognize the importance of separation of church and state, allowing displays of faith in the public square does not create an establishment of religion. 

The Supreme Court has historically protected freedom of expression, and we are hopeful that the justices will once again rule in favor of freedom of religion in the public square.

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