fb-pixel Skip to main content

City Hall Plaza flag sets off quite a flap over free speech

Kim Janey (center), then acting mayor, joined with others who participated in the raising of the Caricom flag on June 2, 2021, for a selfie. The ceremony marked the start of National Caribbean-American Heritage Month.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

There’s nothing quite like seeing yourself in that banner

Re “Wave the white flag in City Hall Plaza flag dispute”: Of course I’m not sure of this, but Saturday’s editorial urging the City of Boston to do away with its community flag policy reads to me like it was written by someone who never saw a banner flying on that third pole and thought, “That’s me,” and felt a bit more welcomed and more of a part of our city. I’ve felt that on seeing the Pride flag flying there.

I would not be offended if I saw a flag at City Hall Plaza representing a group that has connections with a particular religion, within reason. And that’s where the work needs to be done: establishing the parameters. But that should not be an insurmountable task, especially in a city teeming with bright lawyers willing to volunteer their talents for worthy causes. It may in fact already have been done in other contexts of nonprofit groups seeking to use government property.

Let’s do some more thinking here before we do away with what sometimes is the only bright spot on City Hall Plaza.


Donald Vaughan


Well-intended idea gets tugged into a debate

Kimberly Atkins Stohr’s Jan. 21 column regarding the flying of a nongovernmental flag on City Hall Plaza is another vivid illustration of the centrifugal forces that are pulling our society to the extremes (“A high court loss for Boston could come at a high price”). A well-intended idea to promote citywide interests has been transformed into a debate, under the guise of free speech, between the notion of separation of church and state and that of Christian nationalism. Regardless of the decision at the Supreme Court, the outcome will defeat the initial Boston vision to celebrate diversity and inclusion to satisfy a narrow minority at the expense of the majority.


The obvious solution is to remove the flagpole altogether. Perhaps, to fill the void, it would be more fitting to place a bust of Shakespeare to memorialize the saga with the inscription of the title of one of his plays. Either “Much Ado About Nothing” or “The Comedy of Errors” would be appropriate.

Dean R. Wasserman


Take the flagpole down

Dear Boston: Take down the third flagpole, and file the issue under “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Paul J. Phillips

North Port, Fla.

Boston ought to have discretion over messages it conveys

In his column “Does free speech fly at City Hall Plaza?” (Opinion, Jan. 12), Jeff Jacoby makes the same mistake as the plaintiff in Shurtleff v. City of Boston. He ignores both the city’s right to speak for itself and the necessary connection passersby make between the city and any flag raised over City Hall Plaza.

The City of Boston speaks through its use of the flagpole located just outside its main entrance. For example, the city did not interfere with an anti-transgender message conveyed by a “free speech” bus parked outside City Hall. Instead, it used its own flagpole to display a unifying flag, sending its own message about the city’s being inclusive and open.

If the plaintiff prevails, the city would have to allow anyone who asks to hoist their flag. Given the symbolism of a flag flying high over City Hall Plaza, anyone who sees it is bound to think that the city supports its message. Can you imagine the mischief that would ensue? Does Jacoby really want people to think that the city endorses antisemitism, white nationalism, etc.? That would be the end result if the Supreme Court rules as Jacoby recommends.


That is why the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action and cosigners from other faith groups and groups representing communities historically marginalized, discriminated against, or oppressed joined together in an amicus brief. Our hope is that the city will prevail and will retain its right to have discretion over what flags fly on its flagpole.

Cindy Rowe

Executive director

Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action