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Texas vs.

Johnson

Facts:

Johnson participated in a political demonstration during the Republican National Convention.


During the protest, he burned an American flag to protest the re-nomination of Ronald Reagan as
President. He was charged and convicted with the crime of desecration of a venerated object in
violation of the Tex. Penal Code. The Court of Appeals for the 5th District of Texas affirmed the
conviction however the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the decision. The Texas Court
of Criminal Appeals stated that punishing Johnson for burning the flag in these circumstances is
inconsistent with the first amendment.

Issue:

Whether or not Johnson’s conviction is inconsistent with the First Amendment?

Held:

Yes. Johnson was convicted for engaging in expressive conduct. The State’s interest in
preventing breaches of the peace does not support his conviction because Johnson’s conduct did
not threaten to disturb the peace. Nor does the State’s interest in preserving the flag as a symbol
of nationhood and national unity justify criminal conviction for engaging in political expression.
The judgment of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is therefore affirmed.

Ratio:

The principle underlying the First Amendment is that the government may not prohibit the
expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. The
State’s argument cannot depend on the distinction between written or spoken words and
nonverbal conduct. It should focus on the precise nature of the expression.