Texas v. Johnson


The 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case of Texas v. Johnson invalidated prohibitions on desecrating the American flag that had been in force in forty-eight states. The controversial case began when Gregory Lee Johnson joined in a political demonstration during the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas. During the course of the rally, protesters tore down an American flag from a flagpole. In front of city hall, Johnson doused the flag with kerosene and set it on fire. He was eventually convicted of violating a Texas law that prohibits vandalizing respected objects. His conviction was later overturned, whereupon the state of Texas appealed to the Supreme Court. Justice William J. Brennan wrote for a five-justice majority in holding that Johnson's act of flag burning was protected speech under the First Amendment, saying that “the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Image for: Texas v. Johnson

William J. Brennan, Jr. (Library of Congress)

View Full Size