Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, & Bisexual Group of Boston

515 U.S. 557 (1995)

Quick Summary

The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council (defendant) and the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston (plaintiff) disputed over participation in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade. GLIB wanted to march to express their identity, but were denied by the Council and subsequently filed suit based on Massachusetts’ anti-discrimination law.

The main issue was whether forcing the Council to include GLIB violated their First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court ultimately concluded that it did, reversing the lower court’s decision.

Facts of the Case

The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council (Council) (defendant), an association of individuals, had authority to organize the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston (GLIB) (plaintiff) sought to march in the parade to express pride in their Irish heritage as openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals.

The Council denied their application. GLIB obtained a state-court order to march in 1992 but was again denied participation in 1993. GLIB then filed suit alleging violations of Massachusetts law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations.

The trial court ruled the parade was a public event and ordered the Council to include GLIB. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, stating the parade lacked a specific expressive purpose and thus did not warrant First Amendment protection for the Council.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. GLIB applied to march in the parade and was denied by the Council.
  2. GLIB obtained a state-court order to march in 1992.
  3. GLIB was denied participation in 1993 and filed suit in state court.
  4. The trial court ruled in favor of GLIB, and the decision was affirmed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
  5. The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

I.R.A.C. Format


Whether a state requirement that private citizens organizing a parade include groups with messages the organizers do not wish to convey violates the First Amendment.

Rule of Law

A private speaker has the autonomy to choose the content of their own message and cannot be compelled by the state to alter it by including groups that impart a message different from the one intended by the speaker.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court analyzed the expressive nature of parades and determined that they inherently involve communicative messages to observers. The Court emphasized that the selection of parade participants is a form of expression protected by the First Amendment.

The Court found that applying Massachusetts’ public accommodations law in this context effectively required the Council to modify their expressive content, which is at odds with fundamental First Amendment protections.

The Court differentiated between state laws that generally prohibit discrimination in public accommodations and the specific application of such laws that compel speech or alter the content of one’s expression. The Court held that GLIB’s inclusion would result in altering the expressive content of the parade, which is an infringement upon the Council’s right to free speech.


The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, holding that requiring the Council to include GLIB in their parade violates the First Amendment.

Key Takeaways

  1. The First Amendment protects a private organizer’s right to choose participants in a parade, which is an expressive activity.
  2. State anti-discrimination laws cannot compel an organizer to alter the content of their expressive speech by including groups with differing messages.
  3. The autonomy to convey one’s own message is a fundamental aspect of free speech protected under the Constitution.

Relevant FAQs of this case

Can a private entity exercise freedom of speech through selective inclusion?

Absolutely, a private entity can exercise its freedom of speech through selective inclusion, as they have the right to propagate a specific message and control its composition. This mirrors the autonomy an editor has in curating content for publication.

  • For example: A curator organizing an art exhibit may reject works that don’t align with the theme, emphasizing the curator’s right to free expression through selection.

Does a law preventing discrimination in public accommodations impinge on freedom of speech if it compels an entity to adopt a particular message?

Anti-discrimination laws that force an entity to adopt or convey a message that contradicts their own beliefs or intended expression can contravene the principles of free speech enshrined in the First Amendment.

  • For example: A vegan festival organizer being legally required to include a meat vendor would be a form of compelled speech that affects the organizer’s freedom to express their vegan ethos.

In what scenarios might restrictions on discriminatory practices conflict with an individual's right to free expression?

Restrictions on discriminatory practices might conflict with free expression when they require individuals to endorse ideologies or messages contrary to their personal views or intentions, thus infringing upon their expressive autonomy.

  • For example: A slogan T-shirt maker being mandated to print messages they find objectionable would represent a clash between anti-discrimination laws and free speech rights.


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