(NewsGlobal.com)- In its most recent term, the Supreme Court heard several high-profile issues, particularly those involving abortion and the environment. But it also made a decision in Shurtleff v. City of Boston, a less well-known but crucial case addressing a First Amendment constitutional issue.
Its focus is on Boston’s practice of flying flags for groups who ask for permission to do so on a flagpole that usually flies the city’s flag.
Camp Constitution, a group that works to improve knowledge of the country’s Judeo-Christian moral history, applied to the local administration.
According to reports, the group applied for the program to fly the Christian flag atop the city’s flagpole, but it was denied due to the flag’s association with religion. However, the Supreme Court disagreed with that conclusion. The flag regulation could not single out petitions which contain a religious sentiment.
Lea Patterson is a counsel to First Liberty Institute, a legal group devoted to defending Americans’ religious liberties under the First Amendment. She told Newsmax that she got from the opinion that the government cannot point to illusory Establishment Clause violations to support discriminating against religious views. The theory is that if the government permits speech in a specific location, it cannot exclude religious discourse from that forum on the grounds that it is inherently hazardous.
According to Patterson, these challenges arise when the government provides a forum and permits groups to do things but then contends that since they are a government institution, they cannot have any dealings with religious expression. However, the opinions expressed by the public in that forum cannot be attributed to governmental entities. Hence there was no violation of the Establishment Clause.
Patterson explains that sometimes governments close forums when they realize they cannot regulate them. ‘Taking your ball and going home’ is terrible, but they can and have done so. The lesson from Shurtleff is that all forms of religious expression must be treated equally.
The government cannot prohibit speech expressed by others rather than themselves.