Looking Back at the Texas Flag Burning Case – By Edwin C. Hagenstein (Real Clear Politics) / April 7 2021
In this long season of political discontent, one cannot help wondering how we have come to our current straits. What are the landmarks that defined our course?
One came with a 1989 Supreme Court decision, Texas v. Johnson, a controversial free speech case. The case’s resulting opinions touch on various issues roiling our politics today, from the balance between judicial and legislative powers to the place of extreme opinions in the public square.
The facts of the case are straightforward. In 1984, Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag as part of a demonstration in Dallas during that year’s Republican national convention. For this, Johnson was arrested under a Texas law that prohibited the destruction of a venerated object. Johnson was tried and convicted and then appealed the conviction, which, in time, went to the Supreme Court.
The hearings focused on whether flag burning was protected speech under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court sided with Johnson and against the state of Texas – that is, against the constitutionality of the Texas law that prohibited flag burning. However, the decision was narrowly won, 5-4, and controversial.