Texas v. Johnson (1989)
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Texas v. Johnson established that the burning of the American flag was protected under the First Amendment as symbolic speech on similar grounds to Brandenburg v. Ohio. In 1984, Gregory Johnson burned an American flag in front of Dallas City Hall while protesting the Reagan administration. Along with forty-seven other states, Texas had a law against flag desecration and Johnson was prosecuted and convicted for his actions. In a close 5-4 decision, the Court decided that the Texas law violated Johnson's right to free speech. His action, overtly political in nature, constituted an expression of symbolic speech. Moreover, the Court noted that although the flag-burning might have resulted in a disturbance of the peace, that disturbance would have been due to the offense taken by onlookers, which was not in itself the responsibility of the defendant. Johnson's action was not an invitation to confrontation, nor was there evidence that it would incite a riot. Even in the case of flag desecration, the government could not restrain the expression of ideas.