Immediate Impact: Texas v. Johnson

The red, white, and blue of the American flag has become synonymous with the values of the United States, each star evoking liberty, equality, freedom, justice, and bravery. The government has tried to protect such a powerful symbol, however has been met with opposition. In 1989 the Supreme Court heard Texas v. Johnson, chronicling the protest towards the renomination of Ronald Reagan, which included the burning of an American flag. It was held that Johnson was practicing his First Amendment and that the government cannot deny expression simply on the grounds that it is offensive. The case struck down preexisting statutes that protected the physical integrity of the flag as well as inspired the Flag Protection Act of 1889.

Both the Act and the Johnson ruling were used in the years following in the cases of United States v. Haggerty and United States v. Eichman, both of which included a flag burning. These cases held that the Flag Protection Act was also unconstitutional, similarly preventing free expression based on content.

These cases have sparked one of the most polarizing debates in US history. For years, the House of Representatives has attempted to add an amendment to the Constitution that would protect the flag, however, each time they have been faced with opposition from the Senate. Though the American flag represents national ideals, protecting its physical integrity is not worth compromising the 1st Amendment, which in itself embodies liberty, equality, freedom, justice, and bravery.


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