“The group Open Doors USA figures that 360 million Christians last year lived in countries where persecution was “significant.” Roughly 5,600 Christians were murdered, more than 6,000 were detained or imprisoned, and another 4,000-plus were kidnapped. In addition, more than 5,000 churches and other religious facilities were destroyed.
American Christians talk of persecution, but that is what real persecution looks like.
Every year Open Doors USA releases its World Watch report of the 50 states most likely to punish Christians for their faith. Last year 11 nations were guilty of “extreme persecution.”
Afghanistan took over the top spot from North Korea this year. Open Doors explains that it long was “impossible to live openly as a Christian in Afghanistan. Leaving Islam is considered shameful, and Christian converts face dire consequences if their new faith is discovered. Either they have to flee the country or they will be killed.””
“The Supreme Court, in an increasingly familiar development, handed a victory to a Christian conservative organization on Monday. The Court’s decision in Shurtleff v. Boston establishes that this organization, Camp Constitution, should have been allowed to fly a Christian-identified flag from a flagpole outside Boston’s city hall.
But Shurtleff is unlike several other high-profile victories for religious conservatives that the Court has handed down in recent years because the justices did not need to remake existing law in order to reach this result. The decision was unanimous (although the justices split somewhat regarding why the plaintiffs in this case should prevail), with liberal Justice Stephen Breyer writing the majority opinion.
The case involves three flagpoles standing outside of Boston’s city hall. The first flagpole displays the US flag, with a smaller flag honoring prisoners of war and missing service members below it. The second pole features the Massachusetts state flag. And the third typically — but not always — displays the city’s own flag.
This third flagpole, and the city’s practice of sometimes allowing outside groups to display a flag of their choice from it, is the centerpiece of Shurtleff. Since at least 2005, the city has permitted outside groups to hold flag-raising ceremonies on the plaza during which they can raise a flag of their choosing on the third flagpole.
At various times, the third flagpole has displayed the flags of many nations, including Brazil, China, Ethiopia, Italy, Mexico, and Turkey. It has displayed the rainbow LGBTQ pride flag, a flag commemorating the Battle of Bunker Hill, and a flag honoring Malcolm X.
But when Harold Shurtleff, head of an organization called Camp Constitution, asked to fly a flag associated with the Christian faith, the city refused — claiming that displaying such a flag could be interpreted as “an endorsement by the city of a particular religion,” in violation of “separation of church and state or the [C]onstitution.”
Justice Breyer’s majority opinion concludes that the city erred. Relying on a bevy of cases establishing that the government typically cannot discriminate against a particular viewpoint, Breyer notes that “Boston concedes that it denied Shurtleff’s request solely because the Christian flag he asked to raise ‘promot[ed] a specific religion.’” Under the facts of this case, that’s a form of viewpoint discrimination and it’s not allowed.
While it’s notable that Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh each wrote separate opinions indicating that they are eager to let government get cozy with religion, and they have two opportunities to do so this term, this case is a straightforward decision that follows current law — in short, nothing remarkable.”
“The general rule in free speech cases is that the government may not discriminate against any particular viewpoint. Boston could not, for example, have a rule that Democrats are allowed to gather in the city hall plaza but not Republicans. Or that people who support restrictive immigration policies may do so, but not people who oppose them.
But there’s an exception to this general rule when the government speaks in its own voice. That is, the government is allowed to express its own opinion on a subject without also providing a forum for dissenting voices. If a public school principal tells her students to “say no to drugs,” she’s not required to give equal time to the grungy guy in the junior class who sells weed out of his 1997 Subaru Legacy.
The primary question in Shurtleff is whether, when Boston’s city government permitted a wide range of private groups — but not Camp Constitution — to display a flag of their choice outside of city hall, these flags represented the city’s speech or the private groups’ speech. Again, if the flags were a form of government speech, then Boston is allowed to exclude viewpoints it does not share.
But the Court concluded that the city did not use the third flagpole to express its own views, and that it effectively created “a forum for the expression of private speakers’ views.” As Breyer notes, Boston does not appear to have made any effort whatsoever to control which flags are displayed from this flagpole until it denied Shurtleff’s request to fly a Christian flag.”
“The city had approved 284 consecutive applications to fly flags, usually those of other nations, before it rejected Shurtleff’s because it was a Christian flag. The city said he could fly a different banner, but Shurtleff refused, and lower courts upheld the city’s decision.
But the high court said the lower courts and the city were wrong. The case hinged on whether the flag-flying is an act of the government, in which case Boston can do whatever it wants, or private parties like Shurtleff, Breyer wrote.
“Finally, we look at the extent to which Boston actively controlled these flag raisings and shaped the messages the flags sent. The answer, it seems, is not at all. And that is the most salient feature of this case,” Breyer wrote in an opinion that also riffed on the brutalist architectural style of Boston’s City Hall and the Siena, Italy-inspired 7-acre plaza on which it sits.
Breyer wrote that “the city’s lack of meaningful involvement in the selection of flags or the crafting of their messages leads us to classify the flag raisings as private, not government, speech—though nothing prevents Boston from changing its policies going forward.”
The city has said that in the event of a loss at the Supreme Court it probably will change its policy to take more control of what flags can fly.”
An Eccentric Tradition: The Paradox of “Western Values” Peter Harrison. 1 17 2018. ABC Religion & Ethics. https://www.abc.net.au/religion/an-eccentric-tradition-the-paradox-of-western-values/10095044 Did Christianity Create Liberalism? Samuel Moyn. 2 9 2015. Boston Review. https://bostonreview.net/books-ideas/samuel-moyn-larry-siedentop-christianity-liberalism-history The Great Subversion: The Scandalous Origins of Human Rights Ronald Osborn. 2015.
“Justice Amy Coney Barrett had been a member of the Supreme Court for less than a month when she cast the key vote in one of the most consequential religion cases of the past century.
Months earlier, when the seat she would fill was still held by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Court had handed down a series of 5-4 decisions establishing that churches and other houses of worship must comply with state occupancy limits and other rules imposed upon them to slow the spread of Covid-19.
As Chief Justice John Roberts, the only Republican appointee to join these decisions, explained in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom (2020), “our Constitution principally entrusts ‘[t]he safety and the health of the people’ to the politically accountable officials of the States.” And these officials’ decisions “should not be subject to second-guessing by an ‘unelected federal judiciary,’ which lacks the background, competence, and expertise to assess public health and is not accountable to the people.”
But this sort of judicial humility no longer enjoyed majority support on the Court once Barrett’s confirmation gave GOP justices a 6-3 supermajority. Twenty-nine days after Barrett became Justice Barrett, she united with her fellow Trump appointees and two other hardline conservative justices in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo (2020), a decision striking down the very sort of occupancy limits that the Court permitted in South Bay. The upshot of this decision is that the public’s interest in controlling a deadly disease must give way to the wishes of certain religious litigants.”
“Before Roman Catholic Diocese, religious objectors typically had to follow a “neutral law of general applicability” — meaning that these objectors must obey the same laws that everyone else must follow. Roman Catholic Diocese technically did not abolish this rule, but it redefined what constitutes a “neutral law of general applicability” so narrowly that nearly any religious conservative with a clever lawyer can expect to prevail in a lawsuit.
That decision is part of a much bigger pattern. Since the Court’s Republican majority became a supermajority, the Court has treated religion cases as its highest priority.”
“Several of the justices are openly hostile to the very idea that the Constitution imposes limits on the government’s ability to advance one faith over others. At a recent oral argument, for example, Justice Neil Gorsuch derisively referred to the “so-called separation of . . . church and state.”
Indeed, it appears likely that the Court may even require the government to subsidize religion, at least in certain circumstances.
At December’s oral arguments in Carson v. Makin, for example, the Court considered a Maine program that provides tuition vouchers to some students, which they can use to pay for education at a secular private school when there’s no public school nearby. Though the state says it wishes to remain “neutral and silent” on matters of religion and not allow its vouchers to go to private religious schools, many of the justices appeared to view this kind of neutrality as unlawful. “Discriminating against all religions,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh suggested, is itself a form of anti-religious discrimination that violates his conception of the Constitution.
For many decades, the Court held the opposite view. As the Court held in Everson v. Board of Education (1947), “no tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion.”
But Everson’s rule is now dead. And the Court appears likely to require secular taxpayers to pay for religious education, at least under some circumstances.”