Is Flag Burning Free Speech?
This was a hot topic on the Morning Show on Wednesday: Is flag burning free speech?
According to 5-4 US Supreme Court decision in the case of Texas vs. Johnson it is.
During the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas, Gregory Lee "Joey" Johnson was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade at the time and burned a flag stolen from one of the nearby buildings during a demonstration in front of the Dallas City Hall.
Protesting With The Flag
Johnson and others were protesting the policies of then President Ronald Reagan.
All protesters have slogans and this group was no exception. They chanted, "America, the red, white, and blue, we spit on you, you stand for plunder, you will go under," and, "Reagan, Mondale, which will it be? Either one means World War III."
Who was Johnson’s attorney you might ask? None other than William Moses Kunstler whose claim to fame was defending very unpopular clients of the day.
If you were anti-American you were probably on his client list.
One witness to the flag burning, Daniel E. Walker, gathered the ashes of the burned flag and following the rules of military protocol for flag disposal buried the remains in his back yard.
Free Speech Is Not Any Speech
The most common opposition to free speech is the axiom, “I can’t yell fire in a crowed theater.”
But I can yell fire in an empty one.
When the Supreme Court took up the case of Texas vs. Johnson the action brought was not verbal speech.
It was a physical act but the court ruled that expression can come in many forms and ruled in favor of Johnson.
Some Final Thoughts
In the case of this particular flag, it was someone else’s property. It was a stolen flag.
I can’t find anywhere in the ruling that this was an issue, but it seems that he could have been charged for receiving stolen property and destruction of property in the lower courts.
That’s probably a stretch and much too minor an issue to bring before the high court. But it seem that the fact it was stolen property might have had some bearing on the lower courts.
As a patriotic American citizen and a Vietnam Vet, I am offended when I see someone burning or desecrating the flag in any way.
As it says in the Pledge of Allegiance, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of American and to the Republic FOR WHICH IT STANDS …” seems to say it all.
It’s a physical, tangible, symbol of all the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.
While burning it, standing on it, might have the protection of the courts, I should also have the right to shed a silent tear for those who made the ultimate sacrifice to keep it waving when I see it happening.