The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday handed down a stunning unanimous decision, finding that Boston violated the First Amendment free speech rights of an anti-LGBTQ group that had requested the city fly a Christian flag at city hall. That group, Camp Constitution, says part of its mission is to “expose some of the abuses and perversions that have brought our nation and economy so far down.”
Like the Supreme Court’s very narrow decision in the Masterpiece Cake Shop case, the ruling, which is very specific, runs the risk of being used by the right to initiate more religion-based attacks against minority Americans.
The decision, written by retiring justice Stephen Breyer, disturbingly also cites Boston allowing the LGBTQ Pride flag to fly in front of its city hall as an example of how the city granted many other groups’ requests but engaged in discrimination against the Christian group.
“Between 2005 and 2017,” the decision reads, “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.”
The ruling favored Camp Constitution not on the grounds of religious liberty (although other justices wrote concurring opinions that pointed to religion) but on free speech grounds. In short, the ruling states that because the city regularly allowed many other groups to fly various flags, denying one group that “right” violated its freedom of speech.
“Boston’s flag-raising program was aimed at promoting diversity and tolerance among the city’s different communities,” Reuters reports. “In turning down Camp Constitution, Boston had said that raising the cross flag could appear to violate another part of the First Amendment that bars governmental endorsement of a particular religion.”
Reuters adds that the current Supreme Court, with a 6-3 right-wing majority, “has taken an expansive view of religious rights and has been increasingly receptive to arguments that governments are acting with hostility toward religion.”
Justice Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion, which Justice Thomas joined. Justice Alito and Justice Kavanaugh also wrote separate concurring opinions, both of which essentially telegraph how they want to reshape the country’s understanding of the First Amendment to favor religion.
Kavanaugh wrote that “a government violates the Constitution when (as here) it excludes religious persons, organizations, or speech because of religion from public programs, benefits, facilities, and the like.”
Conservative Justice Alito, citing various other cases, wrote that “excluding religious messages from public forums that are open to other viewpoints is a ‘denial of the right of free speech’ indicating ‘hostility to religion’ that would ‘undermine the very neutrality the Establishment Clause requires.’”
The ruling overturns lower court rulings against Camp Constitution.
The case, Shurtleff v. Boston, was brought by Camp Constitution’s Hal Shurtleff. The attorneys who filed it were from the anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel.
Here’s one of Shurtleff’s recent tweets:
Is the ‘Gay Manifesto” Now U.S. Public Policy? https://t.co/KfkHYSIGqr
— Hal Shurtleff (@Freedominboston) April 1, 2022
It links to a post that wrongly takes a well-known satirical opinion piece from the 1980’s and claims it as an actual “manifesto” of the LGBTQ community.
Former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade, a well-known law professor and MSNBC/NBC News legal analyst says the Supreme Court is “further blurring the line between church and state.”
MSNBC’s Pete Williams: