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Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
The Massachusetts Select Board Association’s Annual Business Meeting on Jan. 21 featured a discussion about municipal flag flying policies in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court case involving the city of Boston.
Rob Arcangeli, senior assistant corporation counsel with the city of Boston’s Law Department, and Deanna Barkett Fitzgerald, a senior attorney with Ropes & Gray, gave an overview of Shurtleff v. City of Boston, which challenged the city’s refusal to raise a “Christian flag” outside of City Hall despite never having rejected a previous flag raising request.
The case went to the Supreme Court, which found that the city had violated the U.S. Constitution in refusing to raise a Christian flag, but also found that cities could create policies that would limit flag flying to government-approved messages.
Arcangeli shared the new policy created by the Boston City Council following the Supreme Court Case, which requires a City Council resolution or mayoral proclamation for a flag to be raised. Arcangeli discussed how this policy could be replicated in other municipalities, and how it may apply to signs, banners, and other displays put up on municipal property.
Margaret Hurley, chief of the Central Massachusetts Division and director of the Municipal Law Unit in the Attorney General’s Office, discussed an alternative approach to managing flag flying through a town bylaw.
Hurley discussed an opinion issued by her office on a bylaw from the town of Dighton, which was adopted at Town Meeting by way of citizen petition. In keeping with the decision in Shurtleff, the Attorney General’s Office disapproved some language in the bylaw that it deemed unconstitutional, leaving a bylaw that allows the town to restrict the flags flown on the town flagpole to the United States flag, the Massachusetts State flag, the official Town of Dighton flag, the official flags of all branches of the U.S. military and armed forces, and/or the POW-MIA flag.
The panelists suggested that towns could address flag flying through either a select board policy or a bylaw similar to Dighton’s, but should always work closely with town counsel in such matters.
The business meeting, held during the MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show in Boston, began with welcoming remarks from incoming MSA President and Williamstown Select Board Member Andy Hogeland, followed by a report from the MSA Nominating Committee and a vote on the 2023 MSA officers.
• Shurtleff Vs. City of Boston presentation (2M PDF)
• Attorney General opinion – Dighton Flag Bylaw (180K PDF)
• Boston City Council Ordinance – Flag Raising (170K PDF)
• Shurtleff Vs. Boston – U.S. Supreme Court Opinion (700K PDF)