Texas V. Johnson

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate April 2001

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In 1984, the Republican National Convention was held in Dallas, Texas. Outside the convention center, many protesters distributed literature, held signs, and shouted in protest of President Reagan's political policies. The crowd grew and became more raucous as the night went on. Among the speakers giving speeches, the picketers, and the flyer-distributors, there was a man named Gregory Lee Johnson. In the middle of the protest, he unrolled the American flag, soaked it in kerosene, and lit it on fire. As the nation's symbol lay burning on the floor, several protesters chanted, "America the red, white, and blue, we spit on you"� (West's Encyclopedia of American Law). They managed to offend many who witnessed the act, so much so that one patriot picked up the remains of the charred flag and gave it a proper burial in his back yard. During the protest, no one was physically hurt, and no property was destroyed, except for the flag.

This would be a major point in Johnson's defense.

Gregory Johnson was arrested for the desecration of a venerated object, which was illegal in the state of Texas. He was convicted in Dallas County Criminal Court No. 8 and sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of $2,000 (Great American Trials) The case was appealed to the Fifth District Court of Appeals and Johnson's conviction was reversed. When the case was brought in front of the Supreme Court, the issue at hand was to determine the constitutionality of the Texas statute that prohibited the desecration of venerated objects. The state of Texas had passed a statute that made it illegal to desecrate symbolic objects, however, did that statute violate citizens right to free symbolic speech? This was the issue the Supreme Court was faced with. On one side, it was...