of Texas v. Johnson
Place: Dallas, Texas
Event: The Republican
1984 during the Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas,
Gregory Lee Johnson participated in a political demonstration to
protest the policies of the Reagan administration and some Dallas-based
was the leader of a protest group that marched through downtown
Dallas. At times, group members would collapse on the ground. They
said they were acting out effects of a nuclear war. During the protest,
some in the group committed acts of vandalism: they sprayed paint
on buildings and broke into a bank, where they tore up papers and
turned over plants. Two plainclothes police officers took no action.
front of the Dallas City Hall, an American flag was taken from the
flagpole. Johnson poured lighter fluid on the flag and set it on
fire. Approximately 100 demonstrators stood in a circle around the
flag, chanting “America, the red, white and blue, we spit on you.”
No violence occurred.
45 minutes later, uniformed police arrested Johnson. He was charged
with violating a Texas law against desecrating the flag, or treating
it without respect.
observer took the remains of the flag and conducted a respectful
jury found Johnson guilty. He was sentenced to a year in jail and
fined $2,000. Johnson appealed. The state court of appeals upheld
the conviction. Johnson appealed again. This time, the Texas Court
of Criminal Appeals reversed the decision. The Dallas district attorney
appealed to the Supreme Court. The case was accepted and the hearing
date was set for March 21, 1989.
Alyce Drew argued for the petitioner. William M. Kunstler argued
for the respondent.
Supreme Court decided the case on June 21, 1989. The vote
late October 1989, a county misdemeanor judge formally dismissed
a flag-burning charge against Gregory Lee Johnson, five months after
the Supreme Court overturned the conviction, reported The Dallas
Morning News (Oct. 31, 1989).