Shurtleff v. Boston: America’s Struggle Against Secularism


In the United States, children are often taught that most settlers left Britain to avoid religious persecution. This classic story of the American canon is sometimes presented as part of the explanation of the origins of American secularism. In short, after being persecuted for their religious beliefs, early American settlers developed a value for the separation of church and state. Such notions often overlook contentious and violent periods of American history that fundamentally contradict the concept that America has always truly valued secularism. I view secularism as the principle that affirms that religious expression and advocacy should be excluded from politics, public policy and governance. However, while religious strife may have been an important part of America’s past, it has by no means gone away. The ongoing Supreme Court case, SHurleff against Boston, illustrates that the debate against religious influence in public policy and government is far from over. By evaluating Shurtleff v. Boston, it’s clear that America’s ongoing fight against anti-secularism is more relevant than ever.

The history of American anti-secularism is long and has its roots in the very creation of the nation. The Bill of Rights is supposed to guarantee our individual civil liberties, including freedom of religion. Yet, surprisingly, this only applied to the federal government until the 14th Amendment. doctrine of incorporation, through the due process clause. In other words, no state could be compelled to respect the individual liberties of its citizens until the passage of the 14th Amendment unless their state constitution already includes those rights. As one might expect, the consequences have been considerable in terms of anti-secularism. The interests of religious institutions were sometimes seen as one with those of the state. As such, voters and elected officials would support policies that endorsed and financially supported religious organizations. Debates revolving around state-funded churches were important in the early days of the United States. Although there was some opposition to supporting churches with tax money, there was also widespread support for the practice. Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and South Carolina all supported churches with taxpayer money after 1776. Blasphemy laws also existed in many states for decades after. the signing of the Constitution.

However, the historical ubiquity of Christianity in American political life extends beyond public policy. The preclassical legal theory that was common to the majority of America’s antebellum years was fundamentally based on concepts of natural rights. In practice, this meant that lawyers and professionals were seen as both lawyers and shepherd guards of American society charged with upholding a legal “divine justice” Such interpretations of legal theory would eventually fade by the mid-19th century, but they played a central role in shaping the United States and its traditions and customs policies.

These manifestations of anti-secularism in the United States have not been relegated to the annals of history. Shurtleff v. Boston reveals the continued relevance of America’s fight against secularism. The case is as follows: The third mast in front of Boston City Hall, traditionally reserved for the city’s flag, can be temporarily replaced at the request of an organization and with the agreement of the city. Prior to the case, the city had approved 284 applications over 12 years with no instances of rejection, totaling a number of 50 unique flags. Camp Constitution asked to fly the Christian flag for Constitution Day. The request was denied by the City of Boston over concerns that flying the flag would violate the 1st Amendment Establishment Clause. In response, Camp Constitution sued but lost at the district court level, leading to the Supreme Court case before us. At issue in the case is whether or not the denial of Camp Constitution’s request to fly the Christian flag was a violation of their 1st Amendment rights.

“The history of American anti-secularism is vast and has its roots in the very creation of the nation.”

During the hearing of the case arguments held on January 18 of this year, much of the deliberation to answer this question focused on whether Boston flying a third-party flag was a government speech act. If this was a government speech, the city’s rejection of Camp Constitution’s candidacy was constitutional. Matthew Staver and Sopan Joshi, representing Camp Constitution and the U.S. government, respectively, argued that flying the flag did not constitute government speech. Specifically, they cited precedent in Pleasant Grove City vs. Peak, arguing that there was a lack of “control exercised” by Boston when performing the flag-raising schedule. According to them, the fact that the city never rejected previous nominations, rarely requested changes to organizations’ messages, and sometimes did not review the flag design itself before giving its approval demonstrated that Boston is not did not exercise sufficient control over the messages. for the program to qualify as government speech.

But on closer inspection, this assertion seems less solid. First, as Judge Breyer said, there was no need to reject the 50 previously approved flags as they were all consistent with the city’s message as stated in the bid requirements. Therefore, the mere fact that there were no prior rejections does not prove that Camp Constitution was wrongfully denied. Also, the fact that the city has occasionally requested changes and has final authority in the approval process might suffice.control exercisedon the message of the program to qualify as government speech. Points similar to these were made by Douglas Hallward-Driermeier, representing the City of Boston. In fact, Driermeier referred to the same precedent in Sum, pointing out that the decision made it clear that whether the government had the final power to say or post something or not, it can constitute an expression of government discourse. However, many judges seemed unconvinced by this argument, despite the fact that taking sides against Boston in this decision would go against their previous position in Sum.

In fact, several judges, including Justices Kagan and Kavanaugh, strongly asserted that the rejection of Camp Constitution’s candidacy on the grounds of the Establishment Clause was a clear mistake that should have been corrected. This position and the general tone of the arguments put forward in Shurtleff indicate how deeply rooted anti-secular sentiments run in the United States government. Replacing the Boston flag with the Christian flag used by churches around the world clearly endorsed and supported a particular religion over others. The fact that Camp Constitution deliberately chose the Christian flag over its own organization flag suggests that they did indeed endorse the religion.

The Supreme Court’s lack of commitment to secularism should come as no surprise. The current court under Justice Roberts has ruled favorably on the side of religion in 81% of cases in which it could do so – for example, by allowing religious exemptions Obamacare regulations and rules for school funding. This phenomenon is relatively new and further reinforces the fact that America’s fight against secularism is ongoing and potentially becoming more controversial. Over the past decade, state legislators in North Carolina have attempted to establish an official state religion. A third of Americans believe that government policies should support religious views, and church membership has in fact always on the rise since the founding of the nation. Perhaps the most striking consequence of this reality has been a backtrack of the right to abortion. Unfortunately, after Shurtleffsuch consequences are unlikely to end soon.


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