Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag outside of the convention center where the 1984 Republican National Convention was being held in Dallas, Texas. Johnson burned the flag to protest the policies of President Ronald Reagan. He was arrested and charged with violating a Texas statute that prevented the desecration of a venerated object, including the American flag, if such action were likely to incite anger in others. A Texas court tried and convicted Johnson. He appealed, arguing that his actions were "symbolic speech" protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court agreed to hear his case.
Whether flag burning constitutes "symbolic speech" protected by the First Amendment.
The majority of the Court, according to Justice William Brennan, agreed with Johnson and held that flag burning constitutes a form of "symbolic speech" that is protected by the First Amendment. The majority noted that freedom of speech protects actions that society may find very offensive, but society's outrage alone is not justification for suppressing free speech.
In particular, the majority noted that the Texas law discriminated upon viewpoint, i.e., although the law punished actions, such as flag burning, that might arouse anger in others, it specifically exempted from prosecution actions that were respectful of venerated objects, e.g., burning and burying a worn-out flag. The majority said that the government could not discriminate in this manner based solely upon viewpoint.
Writing for the dissent, Justice Stevens argued that the flag's unique status as a symbol of national unity outweighed "symbolic speech" concerns, and thus, the government could lawfully prohibit flag burning.
texas vs johnson Essay
687 Words3 Pages
Texas vs. Johnson
A very controversial court case in American history was Texas vs. Johnson (1984). In 1984, a man named Gregory Lee Johnson followed a group of anti – Reagan protesters to oppose the American exploitation of third world countries. This act of rebellion resulted in the burning of the American flag. Out of a total of approximately one hundred demonstrators who were involved in this ordeal, Johnson was solely charged with a crime. Johnson was arrested under Texas law, which made the burning of the United States or Texas flags crimes. Johnson was convicted and sentenced to one year in jail and fined two thousand dollars for his crime in restitution. Texas reasoned that the police were preventing…show more content…
This case then was put up to the national level and sent to the United States Supreme Court. There was great public attention because of media. Many groups involved themselves in either trying to support that Texas violated Johnson's first amendment right of freedom of expression, or tried to get a new amendment passed to the constitution stopping the burning of the United States’ flag. The final decision by the Supreme Court on June 21, 1989 was by a 5 – 4 vote, that the Texas court of criminal appeals violated Johnson's first amendment rights by prosecuting him under its law for burning a flag as a means of a peaceful political demonstration. The Supreme Court upheld this ruling, stating the flag burning was "expressive conduct" because it was an attempt to "convey a particularized message." This ruling invalidated flag protection laws in 48 states and the District of Columbia.
The decision of the United States Supreme Court was an unconstitutional one in my opinion. Johnson burning the flag as a way of expression should still be considered to be a rebellious