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

disorder.



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