Washington, D.C.—Today, American Atheists expressed concern at the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Shurtleff v. Boston. In this case, the Supreme Court declared the city of Boston’s flagpole to be a public forum. As a result, the city of Boston must fly the Protestant flag—which insurrectionists brandished on January 6—and potentially the flags of other extremist religious groups, including the KKK. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court refrained from eviscerating the Establishment Clause.
Up until today, the city of Boston had always claimed authority over which flags to fly. In 2017, the Christian organization Camp Constitution applied to raise the Protestant Flag outside Boston City Hall. The city government denied the request, since it did not wish to send a religious message that violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Camp Constitution sued. As a result of this Supreme Court decision, the city of Boston has lost control of its flagpole.
“The worst was averted: the Establishment Clause was not further undermined,” said Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy. “However, Shurtleff v. Boston lowers the standard for a public forum. From now on, governments must be careful about how they use their flagpoles. Otherwise, this tool for government communication may be controlled by outside parties,” she warned.
“With this decision, the Supreme Court is heating up the culture wars and creating unnecessary division,” said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists. “Once Boston raises the Christian flag, other religious organizations will rush into the mêlée and force Boston to raise their own flags—giving the impression that this is government speech. It didn’t have to be this way.”
American Atheists had joined Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s amicus brief in this case.