The United States' Supreme Court has ruled on many cases involving
burning the American flag. So far, the Court has protected the right
to citizens' expression of free speech, even in burning the flag. However,
the battle has not yet ended. With the recent terrorist attacks and the
increased national pride felt by citizens, this issue may become a top
priority with some Americans. |
The precedent for the controversial cases that would rock the late 80's and early 90's was the 1968 ruling of U.S. v. O'Brien. The decision made in this case would be central to the 1989-90 flag protection controversey. O'Brien burned his draft card in protest to the Vietnam War, and was convicted. In 1965, Congress had outlawed burning draft cards as a means to prevent young men from avoiding the draft. The Court ruled that O'Brien's actions were merely to protest the war, not to draft-dodge, and aquitted him (Goldstein, 21-22).
The primary case involving flag burning was Texas v. Johnson. During Reagan's renomination at the Republican National Convention in Dallas, on August 22, 1984, a group of about 100 protestors marched their way through the city, angered by Reagan's foreign policy approaches and other aspects of his presidency. Protestors ended their march at the city hall, where they crowded around in a circle and burned an American flag in the center. The incident was not covered with much notice, but soon the Dallas police filed new charges against Gregory Lee Johnson and seven other protestors (32-33).
On June 21, 1989, by a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had violated
Johnson's First Amendment rights when they prosecuted him for burning a flag as a means of political protest.
President George H. Bush was outraged at the verdict, and propsed adding a Constitutional Amendment to overturn
the Johnson ruling (112-115).