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Flag Desecration Essay

6511 words - 26 pages

Flag Desecration

The issue of flag desecration has been and continues to be a highly controversial issue; on the one side there are those who believe that the flag is a unique symbol for our nation which should be preserved at all costs, while on the other are those who believe that flag burning is a form of free speech and that any legislation designed to prevent this form of expression is contrary to the ideals of the First Amendment to our Constitution. Shawn Eichman, as well as the majority of the United States Supreme Court, is in the latter of these groups. Many citizens believe that the freedom of speech granted to them in the First Amendment means that they can express themselves in any manner they wish as long as their right of expression does not infringe on the rights of others; others, however, believe that there are exceptions to this right of speech. Such constitutional issues need to be worked out by the Supreme Court, which uses its powers of constitutional interpretation and judicial review to outline the underpinnings of the Constitution and interpret the law. The case which acted as an impetus for Eichman's actions was that of Texas v. Johnson. "In 1984, in Dallas, Gregory Johnson, a member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, a Maoists society, publicly burned a stolen American flag to protests the re-nomination of Ronald Reagan as the Republican candidate" (Levy 217). The police consequently arrested Johnson not for his message but for his manner in delivering it; he had violated a Texas statute that prohibited the desecration of a venerated object by acts that "the offender knows will seriously offend on or more persons" (Downs 83). Johnson had hoped to capture America's attention with this burning, and he did; however, his protest earned him more than a moment in the national spotlight. "Under Texas's tough anti-flag-burning statute, Johnson was fine $2,000 and sentenced to a year in prison" (Relin 16). In Texas v. Johnson a majority of the Supreme Court considered for the first time whether the First Amendment protects desecration of the United States flag as a form of symbolic speech. A sharply divided Court had previously dealt with symbolic speech cases that involved alleged misuses of the flag. While "the Court had ruled in favor of the defendants in those cases (Street v. New York, 1969; Smith v. Goguen, 1974; Spence v. Washington, 1974), it had done so on narrow grounds, refusing to confront the ultimate question status of flag desecration" (Downs 868). The court ruled in favor of Johnson (5-4), believing that "there was no evidence that Johnson's expression threatened an imminent disturbance of the peace, and that the statute's protection of the integrity of the flag as a symbol was improperly directed at the communicative message entailed in flag burning" (Downs 868). Justice Brennan concluded by saying, "We do not consecrate the flag by punishing it's desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom...

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