Council Unanimously Passes Ordinance Establishing New Flag Raising Policy

On August 10, Councilors Kenzie Bok, Ruthzee Louijeune, and Ed Flynn led the unanimous passage of an ordinance amending City of Boston Code, Ordinances, Section 1, to codify city policy regarding the display of flags on City Hall Plaza.

“Ceremonial flag raisings are a reflection of who we are as a City, whether we’re flying flags of other nations to show solidarity with Boston’s immigrant communities or the Pride flag to affirm allyship with the LGBTQ+ community” said Councilor Bok. “It’s incredibly important that the Boston City Council passed this ordinance so that we may resume these celebrations as clear official messages of the City. I’m grateful to all my colleagues and Mayor Wu for their partnership.”

The ordinance codifies that raisings of other flags on the City’s flagpole are official government speech by the City of Boston and that the City’s flagpoles are not intended to serve as a forum for free expression by the public. As a result, all flag raisings must be initiated by a proclamation of the Mayor or by a Boston City Council resolution.

“We have a rich city of diverse people and ethnic backgrounds that we want to celebrate while we are doing the work to uplift communities,” said Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune. “This flag raising ordinance clarifies and codifies the process for flag raisings and the messages that we as a city want to convey each time a different flag is raised. I am proud of the work we did on this ordinance and look forward to returning to our tradition of flag raising next Tuesday.”

“The passage of this ordinance allows us to codify a formal process on flag raising and lets us reflect our city’s values through the use of our flagpoles,” said Councilor Flynn. “I want to thank Councilors Bok and Louijeune for their work on this ordinance and my colleagues for their support.”

In June 2022, the Supreme Court released an opinion in Shurtleff v. Boston stating that the City of Boston’s prior policy for determining which flags could fly on the third flagpole had had the effect of turning the City’s flagpole into a public forum for private speech, to which all voices were entitled to access. Writing for the Court, however, Justice Stephen Breyer laid out a test by which the raising of other flags on the City’s flagpole could be properly limited to government speech, and stated explicitly that “nothing prevents Boston from changing its policies going forward”.

With the passage of this ordinance, the Council has now clearly established a new policy for flag raisings in the City of Boston that aligns with the Court’s test for government speech. Councilors Bok, Louijeune, and Flynn look forward to joining Council colleagues and Mayor Wu for the first use of this new policy on Tuesday August 16, Dominican Restoration Day, when we expect the City of Boston to raise the Dominican flag by Mayoral proclamation.

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