Court Decision Involving Flag Burning and the First Amendment Rights.
It was 1984 when demonstrators rallied down the street of Dallas to protest the policies of the Reagan administration and certain Dallas-based corporations. The political demonstration dubbed the "Republican War Chest Tour" was the beginning of the controversial court case between Gregory Lee Johnson and the state of Texas. The demonstrators marched through the Dallas streets, chanting political slogans, staging "die-ins" intended to dramatize the consequences of nuclear war, spray-painting building walls, and overturning potted plants to express their protest. Of the approximate one hundred demonstrators, Johnson alone was charged with a crime, the desecration of a venerated object in violation of the Texas Penal Code. After a trial, he was convicted, sentenced to one year in prison, and fined two thousand dollars.
After his conviction, the case presented the question whether his conviction is consistent with the First Amendment. Because Johnson's expression was not for uttering insulting words, this complicated the Supreme Court's decision. The First Amendment forbids the abridgment only of "speech" but the court has long established that its protection does not end at the spoken or written word. Therefore, the court must determine whether Johnson's goal to convey a particular message was present, and whether those who viewed it would understand the message. Also the court must take into consideration as to whether the Texas law of preventing breaches of speech justifies Johnson's conviction for desecrating the flag. It was proved that Johnson's expression did not disturb the peace or cause a threat; nor did the expressive conduct fall within the class of "fighting words" that are likely to provoke a retaliation or cause a breach of the peace. The court concluded that the State's interest in preserving order is not implicated on these facts.