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Texas v. Johnson (1989) is a case which deals with our First Amendment Rights. During the Republican National Convention in 1984, Johnson had participated in a political demonstration protesting the Reagan administration policies and some other Dallas-based corporations. Johnson marched through the streets and then finally, burned an American flag. Although no one was physically hurt in the protest, many were offended because of the flag burning. Johnson was then tried and was convicted under a Texas law which outlawed flag desecration. He was fined two thousand dollars and sentenced to one year in jail. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled against the lower court, saying that the State could not criminally sanction flag desecration in order to preserve the flag as a symbol of national unity, and then the case finally went to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court asked one major question in this case: Is the desecration of an American flag, by burning or otherwise, a form of speech that is protected under the First Amendment? The Supreme Court answered by stating that convicting Johnson for burning the flag was inconsistent with the First Amendment. Hence, in a very tight decision (5-4), the Supreme Court stated that flag burning was a protected form of speech under the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Johnson and said that his actions fell into the category of expressive conduct and had a distinctively political nature. Just because a few people are offended by something, it should not prohibit or limit others freedom of speech. Further, the Supreme Court stated that state officials could not designate symbols to be used to communicate only limited sets of messages. The Supreme Court said, "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."

Out of this historic and landmark decision, many consequences emerged. First of all, we found that expressive or symbolic speech is protected, as we did find earlier in Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969). Americans now have the right to burn the American flag as a means of protest, and may do so without fear of punishment by governmental authorities. It reaffirmed that symbolic speech is protected under the First Amendment.

Sources:http://oyez.nwu.edu/cases/cases.cgi and notes from Government class.

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