Texas v. Johnson (1989)
Flag burning, symbolic speech protected under the First Amendment
Decision Date: June 21, 1989
Background: The 1984 Republican National Convention was held in Dallas, Texas. During the convention Gregory Lee Johnson and a group of political activists marched through the streets protesting. When the demonstrators reached Dallas City Hall, Johnson poured kerosene on an American flag and burned it. Johnson was arrested and convicted under a Texas state law. In an appeal, Johnson argued that burning the American flag was symbolic speech and protected by the First Amendment. The Texas appeals court agreed and overturned his conviction. Unsatisfied with the decision, the state of Texas, appealed the ruling to the United States Supreme Court.
Decision: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in favor of Johnson. The high court agreed that symbolic speech – no matter how offensive to some – is protected under the First Amendment.