While the Republican National Convention was meeting in Dallas, Texas, in 1984, Gregory Johnson took part in a demonstration protesting the policies of the Reagan administration. During the demonstration, Johnson burned an American flag, and Dallas police arrested him. .
4. Statute. Johnson was arrested and subsequently convicted under a Texas law that made it a criminal activity to desecrate a "respected" object, including a state or a national flag. He was convicted and sentenced to a one-year prison term and a $2000 fine. A state court of appeals affirmed the conviction. However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the holding. The state of Texas appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
5. Provision of the Constitution. Johnson alleged that his conviction, under the Texas state law, violated First Amendment guarantees of freedom of expression.
6. Legal Question. Is flag burning, in the context of this dispute, an activity protected by the First Amendment?.
7. Outcome. In a 5-4 ruling, the United States Supreme Court held for Johnson.
8. Legal Reasoning of the Majority. In delivering the opinion of the Court, Justice William J. Brennan Jr. held that:.
a. Johnson's action constituted expressive conduct, allowing him to raise a First Amendment claim.
b. Although governments have a freer hand in restricting conduct as opposed to pure speech or writing, they still must demonstrate a sufficiently important government interest in regulating the activity in question.
c. Texas's stated interest-preventing breaches of the peace and preserving the flag as a symbol of national unity-are insufficient to prohibit Johnson's expressive conduct.
9. Legal Doctrine. The majority:.
a. Set policy in an area of the law that was previously murky. States may not foster their own view of the flag by prohibiting expressive conduct relating to it.
b. Reaffirmed past precedents, suggesting that in such cases the Court will not only consider the nature of the expression (whether verbal or nonverbal), but the governmental interest at stake.