The Supreme Courthas on various occasions dealt
with cases that have the First Amendmentat the crux of the dispute. In
other Supreme Court Cases, the judgments rendered have proven that the First
Amendment and the Freedom of Speech are not constricted to that of the written
and spoken word, but also extend to symbolic speech as well. Texas v. Johnson
is yet another Supreme Court case in which the application and interpretation
of First Amendment rights is at the heart of the dispute.
The issue brought civil
penalties against Johnson, including a $2,000 fine, as well as a year in
prison. The conviction was brought on appeal to Texas State courts. The first
appeal was rejected, but Johnson’s second appeal to yet a higher State court overturned
the conviction. The decision was based upon his actions being protected under
First Amendment rights.
The State of Texas then brought
the matter to the Supreme Court, under the argument that the flag was a
national symbol and that flag burning was not only a desecration of national
unity, but also a breach of peace. Furthermore, Texas had State laws and
statutes that prohibited flag burning. Texas was one of the many states having
similar provisions, with the exception of only two states in the country not
imposing such regulations.
The Court held that even though
such an act was not a verbal or written speech, is was protected under the
concept of symbolic speech. A similar decision was arrived at in a previous
landmark Supreme Court case in Tinker v. Des Moines
Concurrently, the Supreme Court
would also strike down the State’s argument regarding the breaching of the
peace. Since Johnson’s flag burning did not actually harm anyone or threaten
danger to the community, no disturbance or breach of peace actually took place.
The Court did state, however, that flag burning could be punishable by law in instances
where it constitutes an actual danger or lawless action. Though flag burning,
as an action, will not always present such a circumstance and its potential for
such can be grounds to punish the act, flag burning must be actual and readily
identifiable as a real threat or lawless action.
) that would prohibit flag burning in the United States on
a national level. A law by Congress did manage to get passed, but was
eventually struck down by the same five person majority of Justices that tried
the Texas v. Johnson case.