God in the public square: Shurtleff c. City of Boston | Opinion


On August 3, 2022, the Christian flag has stolen over the city of Boston.

The raising of the flag – a white banner with a red Latin cross on a blue field in the upper hoist-side corner – was the culmination of a legal battle that began in 2017. Camp Constitution, a Christian organization, demanded to wave his religious flag. at commemorate America’s “Judeo-Christian heritage” on Constitution Day, using a flagpole the city normally uses to fly civilian flags when requested. Boston denied that claim under the Establishment Clause, and five years later the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Camp Constitution in Shurtleff v. City of Boston.

The flag only flew for two hours, but during that time it sent a clear message to the city’s non-religious, non-Christian communities – that those who saw their community as fundamentally Christian would always win.

Liberty Counsel, the firm representing Camp Constitution, alleged perspective discrimination since the city denied the application not because of the content of the flag itself, but specifically because it described the flag as the “Christian flag.” The city’s refusal to fly its Christian flag when it had previously flown secular flags (primarily other national flags to celebrate Boston’s diversity, but also flags commemorating celebrations like Pride Month and the June 19) was therefore just one more example of government discrimination against religious people in the name of what Neil Gorsuch called “so-called separation of church and state.

To the petitioners’ credit, the responsible commissioner had never denied a flag-raising petition, and Boston had approved 284 over the past twelve years. But, the city had never flown a religious flag before and, believing that flying the cross in front of City Hall would be too much of an endorsement of a particular religion, the city denied the request.

The idea that Christianity is discriminated against has become a major talking point of the religious right, which has used the “removal of God from the public square” as an explanation for school shootings to affirm that a return to a Christian society would correct our societal trajectory. But for all their claims that Christianity has become taboo, it’s no coincidence that the only religious flag to fly over Boston was Christian, and I’d say the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision for this Christian plaintiff says more on religion in the United States. today as Boston’s rejection of the original petition. While regulations such as those enforced by the city are designed to protect all religious communities equally, Christianity is routinely prioritized across the country in ways that no other religion is prioritized.

Both Arkansas and Texas have monuments to the Ten Commandments in their state capitol buildings, and Oklahoma had one until 2015. Seven states mandate that the public schools give courses on the Bible. The governing bodies of city ​​councils at state legislatures regularly open their sessions with disproportionate Christian prayers, and the professional chaplains of both bedrooms of Congress are Christians. Only Christians have ever held either role. And none of this mentions the fact that the Christian holiday of Christmas is the only religious holiday have federal recognition. These are, for me, the visible political manifestations of Christian nationalisman ahistorical movement that argues that American identity is a fundamentally Christian identity.

Yet as much on the religious right no longer hesitate of the term “Christian nationalist”, even these demonstrations of Christian domination are not enough. They must be allowed to make the Bible their official state bookthey must be allowed to lead students in prayerthey must be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people while still receives federal fundsand they must be allowed to spread the word by flying the Christian flag from Boston City Hall.

For non-religious and minority religious communities, the argument that our society is declining because God is “removed from the public square” is based on a patently false premise. Christianity continues to be the default position in the United States, with Christians vastly overrepresented in Congress and the Supreme Court. The real change in the United States is to confuse Christian morality with the law and Christianity with the government itself.

God has not been removed from the public square, but Christians cannot use government to enforce the display of God. Christians can always pray in public, they just can’t compel their students to do it with them. Christians can still send their children to schools that discriminate against LGBTQ+ and non-religious students and teachers, they simply cannot demand that these schools receive federal funding in violation of non-discrimination laws.

Or at least they couldn’t. But one by one, these legal barriers between church and state are slowly but deliberately being lifted, thanks to a concerted effort on behalf of a small but critical minority of the Christian population. And one by one, these policy shifts are building a religious hierarchy completely detached from the diverse religious perspectives of Americans and disconnected even from the religion practiced by most Christians.

This column, “The Free Exercise Of It,” will examine this rising tide of Christian nationalism and what it means for non-Christians like me. Rulings like Shurtleff and the other cases this column will investigate are part of a concerted effort to undermine the separation of church and state, and it is for this reason that recognizing and addressing this threat existential should be our top constitutional priority.

Christianity has long held legal privilege in American society, but this new wave of Christian nationalism is explicitly and dangerously reactionary. Camp Constitution did not feel the need to affirm the country’s “Judeo-Christian heritage” in a vacuum. A small, reactionary subset of diehard Christians sees the loss of Christianity’s absolute supremacy in the American religious landscape and sees it as discrimination.

For them, the United States has always been a Christian nation. And during these two hours of August 3, their message came through loud and clear.

Aidan R. Scully ’25 is a hub of classics and religion at Adams House. Its section “The free exercise of it” appears every other Tuesday.

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