Flag burning or otherwise known as flag desecration is a term applied to the desecration/defacing of flags. These are acts that purposely destroy or damage a flag in public. In the case of burning a national flag, usually, this action is intended to make a political statement against a country, national leaders, or policies. Burning or defacing a flag is a crime in some countries, but not in others. In countries where this is not illegal, the act may still be prosecuted for things like disorderly conduct, arson, or vandalism.
Many people often question, should flag burning be protected by the First Amendment? This question was challenged in 1984 when Gregory Lee Johnson protested outside of the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas. During these protests, Johnson participated in the burning of a United States flag. Bystanders were outraged and appalled. They claimed that this was an act of terrorism and it was unpatriotic.
Johnson was arrested and charged with violating a Texas law which prohibits vandalizing respected objects. Johnson was sentenced to one year in prison, and fined $2,000. Gregory Johnson then appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeals of Texas, but he lost this appeal. The declined appeal was later overturned when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said that the State could not punish Johnson for burning the flag because the First Amendment protects such activity as a form of symbolic speech. The Court then considered the question of whether the First Amendment protected non-speech acts. Since Johnson was convicted of flag desecration rather than verbal communication, and, if so, whether Johnson’s burning of the flag constituted expressive conduct/symbolic speech, which would allow him to use the First Amendment as a challenge point in his conviction.
A majority rule of 5-4 showed that the Court agreed with Johnson and stated that flag burning is a form of “symbolic speech” which is protected by the First Amendment. The majority stated, “freedom of speech protects actions that society might find offensive, but society’s outrage alone is not justification for suppressing free speech.”
I agree with the ruling of the Texas v. Johnson case. As long that the safety of others is not violated, I believe that as a part of the First Amendment all citizens deserve the advantage of free speech. Whether it is symbolic and nonverbal, or it is out loud and opinionated. Overall, burning/desecration of the flag should always be protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and symbolic speech rights.