State of Texas vs. Johnson (1989)

Justice Viveiros delivers the opinion of the court:

Gregory Lee Johnson has been convicted of desecrating a flag
in violation of Texas law; a conviction which questions ones
guaranteed First Amendment, constitutional rights. Johnson's
involvement in a political demonstration in Dallas, lead him to
express his political concerns with the nations leaders and
governmental policies. The State of Texas' conviction of Johnson
was carried out due to Johnson's conduct, a physically expressive act,
rather than a written or spoken one and based on two criteria: a
responsibility to preserve the integrity of the flag representing the
strength, pride and unity of our nation and whether Johnson's actions
threatened societal order and peace. Both criteria, which serve as the
basis for Gregory Lee Johnson's conviction, have been explored in
depth, and this court concludes the following...

Johnson's form of political expression did not cause societal
disorder or disrupt the peace. There were no violent outbreaks, either
verbal or physical, from members of Johnson's protest, or other
citizens, who may view flag burning as a distasteful, ungrateful, slap
in the face of our nation. However, the State of Texas has already
acknowledged this fact. The State ruled that regardless of the lack of
evidence that Johnson's actions have threatened societal order and
public peace, on account there were no such occurrences, flag burning
has the potential to do so. The State has concluded that flag burning
could: first, stir up people's emotions enough, possibly resulting in
intense public arguments, violent physical disputes, or riots, and
second, serves as an invitation for others to take political protests
to the next level, which could be dangerous.

The States decision brings up two questions, is flag burning
as a form of political protest an agreeable method of practicing ones
First Amendment rights, or an attempt to persuade others to take the
act beyond the rights of citizens to more serious and dangerously,
harmful, acts of protest?, and does the State have the right to claim
that Johnson's conduct had the potential or indented to cause a
violent encounter with passionate opposition to flag burning, even if
the act did not do so?

Johnson is an individual, responsible for his own actions, not
the actions of others. He has chosen to practice his First Amendment
rights, by expressing his disapproval of government leadership and
polices, by publicly burning and American flag. It is this courts
decision that Johnson has not intended to encourage others to take
more drastic approaches of protesting government. Johnson can not be
accountable for wrongful impressions of his intentions.

The State has allowed itself power not granted by the United
States Constitution, by convicting Johnson for an act that potentially
causes violent confrontations. Had publicly burning a flag caused a
fight or rioting, this would be an entirely different case. However,
the fact remains, the protest resulted in no such event. There is also
no evidence that Johnson intended his protest to provoke societal
disorder. Again, the State has not the right to base charges of
Johnson's intentions with no evidence, only expressing concerns of the
potential negative effects of Johnson's actions.

The State's conviction is therefore unjust, based on its claim
that Johnson has threatened societal order and peace. This does not
disregard the conviction of Johnson entirely, the right of the State
to preserve the integrity of the flag must still be discussed.
Likewise, this courts ruling does not disregard the right of the State
of Texas to promote and ensure order. History and common sense both
show, order and peace necessary aspects of a stable, powerful nation
and both must be ensured to protect American citizens. However, it has
not been proven that Johnson's public desecration of the flag has
infringed American peace or has promoted or intended to evoke societal

The State's conviction of Johnson, based on a responsibility
to preserve the integrity of the flag as a representation of national
unity and pride, brings about several questions involving the meaning
of America itself, and what our nation ezds for. The State concerns
involve the message perceived by others, at the actions of Johnson. If
a citizen can publicly destroy the symbol representing our nations
pride and unity without consequences, then the State has concluded
that it will be perceived that this pride and unity does not exist,
having a drastically negative impact