In 1984, during the Republican National Convention Gregory Johnson was arrested for flag desecration after he burned an american flag o the front steps of the convention center. Johnson was at the convention center in protest of Ronald Reagan's policies.
Johnson pictured with his attorney, William Kunstler.
Johnson was initially arrested and sentenced to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine. The case was then reversed the Texas State Court of Appeals, and then sent to the supreme court. The case made it to the Texas supreme court 5 years later in 1989. In a 5-4 decision the court decided that Johnson burning the American Flag was protected under his first amendment rights. The court stated "The fact that an audience takes offense to an action, does not justify prohibition of speech." The argument against Johnson was 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. That was ultimately not enough as the charges were acquitted.
The petitioner was the state of Texas as they wanted to get the case to the supreme court because it was overturned in the court of appeals and this was their last chance to get Johnson for his actions. The respondent was Gregory Lee Johnson as he and his lawyers believed he was guilty of no wrong-doing. The decision of the court was a 5-4 majority in favor of Johnson. Justice William Brennan wrote for the majority saying that Johnson's actions were protected by the first amendment. Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Scalia, and Kennedy were the majority who sided with Johnson. Justice Kennedy had a concurrent opinion, I believe. He basically stated that sometimes we must make tough decisions, some that we don't like or agree with, because it is what the constitution deems right.
This case didn't change the Constitution or any of the amendments, but I do think that this case is somewhat still relevant today. With all the protests, and what went on during the election there was controversy over people burning flags. Although i strongly disagree with it, I do realize that it is an action that is protected by the constitution and by doing it, you are expressing your freedom of speech.
- Texas v. Johnson. (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from https://www.oyez.org/cases/1988/88-155