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First Amendment: Free Speech and Flag Burning

This activity is based on the landmark Supreme Court case Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), which deals with First Amendment protection of flag burning as symbolic speech. 

About These Resources

How to Use These Resources

This activity is a modified Oxford style debate.

  1. To get started, have participants read the Texas v. Johnson facts and case summary.
  2. Assign student attorneys to the issues listed in the talking points. They are suggested points– not a script–for the debate. Student attorneys are encouraged to add their own arguments.
  3. All other students are jurors who deliberate (and may refer to these talking points) during the open floor debate. They debate among themselves in the large group or smaller groups and come to a verdict after the attorneys present closing arguments.

Background: Texas v. Johnson

United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990) The Johnson decision only affected a Texas state law. In the wake of the decision, the federal government enacted a law that also prohibited flag burning. In order to try to get around constitutional challenges, the law prohibited all types of flag desecration, with the exception of burning and burying a worn-out flag, regardless of whether the action upset others. The Supreme Court held that this did not cure the constitutional defect and the same 7-3 majority from Johnson held that the law still impermissibly discriminated upon viewpoint and struck it down.