Texas v. Johnson (1989)
In 1984, following a protest march through the streets of Dallas, Texas against the policies of the Reagan Administration, Gregory Lee Johnson was handed an American flag. Outside the Dallas City Hall, Johnson through the flag onto the ground, poured kerosene on it, and set fire to it. Many protesters around Johnson began a chant of, "America, the red, white, and blue, we spit on you!" While many protesters agreed with what Johnson had done, there were several others who felt extremely offended. In fact, one such person felt the need to gather the remains of the flag which he then buried in his yard. The protest was a nonviolent one and no one standing nearby was hurt or threatened.
At this time, 48 of our 50 states had in place laws that prohibited the public burning of the American flag. Texas, of course, was one of these. This caused Johnson to be charged with "the desecration of a venerated object." He was found guilty and faced a sentence of a $2,000 fine and one year in prison. Johnson, appalled by this decision, appealed his case to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas. This court agreed with the prior one and ruled to have his conviction stand.
In response, the still angry Johnson appealed his case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. This court, unlike the previous two, found Johnson to be innocent because it found that the First Amendment protected Johnson's behavior. To arrive at this decision, the court first quickly decided that Johnson's actions feel under the First Amendment protection of free speech because it was expressive conduct. Because of this, the state would need to prove that circumstances existed which would make the state interest outweigh the First Amendment. The court found that there was not a strong enough state interest to overrule the protection of the First Amendment and overturned the previous ruling. Upset with this, The State of Texas appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and...
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