Background of Texas v. Johnson
Time:    August 1984
Place:   Dallas, Texas
Event: The Republican National Convention

In 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 corporations.

Johnson 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.

In 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.

About 45 minutes later, uniformed police arrested Johnson. He was charged with violating a Texas law against desecrating the flag, or treating it without respect.

One observer took the remains of the flag and conducted a respectful burial.

A 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.

Kathi Alyce Drew argued for the petitioner. William M. Kunstler argued for the respondent.

The Supreme Court decided the case on June 21, 1989. The vote was 5-4.

In 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).