SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES ________________________________________ 491 U. S. 397 Texas v. Johnson CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF TEXAS ________________________________________ No. 88-155 Argued: March 21, 1989 — Decided: June 21, 1989 This case analysis of Texas v. Gregory Lee Johnson was a Supreme Court case that overthrew bans on damaging the American flag in 48 of the 50 states. Gregory Lee Johnson participated in a political demonstration during the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas, where he burned the American flag.
Consequently, Johnson was charged with violating the Texas law that bans vandalizing valued objects. However, Johnson appealed his conviction, and his case eventually went to the Supreme Court. Facts And Procedural History In 1984, the Republican Party convened in Dallas, Texas for their national convention. President Ronald Regan, seeking a second term in office, was to be officially delegated as the GOP (Grand Old Party) candidate for President. Scores of individuals organized a political protest in Dallas, which voiced opposition to Reagan administration policies, and those of some Dallas-based corporations.
Among these protesters was a man by the name of Gregory Lee Johnson, who participated in a political demonstration, called the “Republican War Chest Tour. ” As the demonstrators marched through the streets, chanting their message, a fellow protestor handed Johnson an American flag that had been taken from a flag pole at one of their protest locations. Upon reaching the Dallas City Hall, Johnson doused the flag with kerosene and set it on fire. In addition, Johnson and his fellow demonstrators circled the burning flag and shouted “America, the red, white, and blue, we spit on you. No one was hurt or threatened with injury by the act, but many who witnessed it were deeply offended. Therefore, Johnson was arrested, charged and convicted under Texas “desecration of a venerated object” statue, sentenced to one year prison, and fined $2000. Moreover, Texas was not the only state to have anti-flag burning laws on the books, 47 other states also criminalized flag desecration (Joel, 2011. ) Principles to the case A principle to the case is mens rea accompanying “Symbolic expression “which is a phrase often used to describe expression that is mixed with elements of conduct (Cline, 2011. The issues argued were the 1st Amendment, and protest demonstrations. The Supreme Court has made clear in a series of cases that symbolic expression (or expressive conduct) may be protected by the First Amendment (Cline, 2011. ) However, of the approximately 100 demonstrators, Johnson alone was charged with a crime. Johnson appealed his conviction and his case eventually went to the Supreme Court. The principle to the case is burning a U. S. flag in protest was expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment.
In determining the case, the court first considered the question of whether the First Amendment reached non-speech acts, since Johnson was convicted of flag desecration rather than verbal communication, and, if so, whether Johnson’s burning of the flag constituted expressive conduct, which would permit him to invoke the First Amendment in challenging his conviction. The First Amendment literally forbids the abridgment only of ‘speech,’ but has long recognized that its protection does not end at the spoken or written word.
If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea; simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable (Find Law, 2011. ) In addition, Johnson argued that the Texas flag desecration statute violated the First Amendment, which says “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech … or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. ” Consequently, the state of Texas argued that it had an interest in preserving the flag as a symbol of national unity.
Analysis Of The Court Findings I agree to some extent with the ruling, since it claims that its interest in preventing breaches of the peace justifies Johnson’s conviction for flag desecration. However, no disturbance of the peace actually occurred, or threatened to occur because of Johnson’s burning of the flag. Johnson deliberately chose to burn the American flag in order to demonstrate his deep distress over the nation’s policies. His gesture was an attempt to cry out to the government for a redress of grievances, and not to commit an act of juvenile vandalism.
The 1st and 14th amendments protect Johnson’s symbolic protest. Also, the only evidence offered by the state at trial to show the reaction to Johnson’s actions was the testimony of several persons who had been seriously offended by the flag burning. This case sparked years of debate over the meaning of the flag, including efforts to amend the Constitution to allow for a prohibition of the “physical desecration” of the flag. The only evidence offered by the State at trial to show the reaction to Johnson’s actions was the testimony of several persons who had been seriously offended by the flag burning.
They rejected the claim that the ban was necessary to protect breaches of the peace due to the offense that burning a flag would cause. Burning a U. S. flag in protest was expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. “The First Amendment literally forbids the abridgment only of ‘speech,’ but we have long recognized that its protection does not end at the spoken or written word…. If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. (Find Law, 2011. ) Another fact I find interesting is that Johnson was prosecuted because he knew that his politically charged expression would cause a “serious offense. ” If he had burned the flag as a means of disposing of it because it was dirty or torn, he would not have been convicted of flag desecration under this Texas law; however, federal law designates burning as the preferred means of disposing of a flag “when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display,” 36 U. S. C. § 176(k), and Texas has no quarrel with this means of disposal (ACLU, 2011. Johnson was convicted for engaging in expressive conduct. The State’s interest in preventing breaches of the peace does not support his conviction, because Johnson’s conduct did not threaten to disturb the peace; nor does the State’s interest in preserving the flag as a symbol of nationhood and national unity justify his criminal conviction for engaging in political expression. Therefore, the judgment of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was affirmed. Conclusion To put it briefly, grunts and howls do not inspire laws banning them; owever, a person who grunts in public is looked at as being strange, but laws do not punish them for grunting instead of communicating in whole sentences. If people are irritated by desecration of the American flag, it is because of what they believe is being communicated by such acts. Thus, amending the Constitution to permit bans on flag burning is not just a solution in search of a problem. Instead, I believe it is also a “solution” which will likely serve to create the problem it is trying to solve in the first place. References ACLU (2011. Burn the Flag or Burn the Constitution? Retrieved September 1, 2011 from http://www. aclu. org/blog/tag/flag-burning. Cline, A. (2011) Can Flag Burning Send a Political Message Be Made a Crime? Retrieved September11,2011fromhttp://atheism. about. com/od/flagburningcourtcases/a/TexasJohnson. html. Find Law (2011. ) Cases and Codes. Retrieved September 1, 2011 from http://caselaw. findlaw. com/wa-supreme-court/1102265. html. Joel, S. (2011. ) Texas v. Johnson. Retrieved September 1, 2011 from book Criminal Law, tenth Edition, Page47.
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