News / USA

Landmark US Flag Burning Case Marks 25th Anniversary

Landmark US Flag Burning Case Marks 25th Anniversaryi
X
Jim Malone
June 20, 2014 4:30 PM
Saturday, June 21, marks the 25th anniversary of a landmark Supreme Court decision on free speech. By a vote of five to four, the high court ruled that burning the American flag as a form of political protest was a protected act of free speech under the U.S. Constitution. As VOA's Jim Malone reports, the decision was controversial at the time and, for some, remains so today.
Saturday, June 21, marks the 25th anniversary of a landmark Supreme Court decision on free speech.  

By a vote of five to four, the high court ruled that burning the American flag as a form of political protest was a protected act of free speech under the U.S. Constitution. The decision was controversial at the time and for some remains so today.  

The 1989 Supreme Court case on flag burning was set in motion by the actions of Gregory Johnson.  He was among a group of demonstrators at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas, where President Ronald Reagan was nominated for a second term.

During a protest denouncing Reagan administration policies, Johnson set fire to an American flag. He was arrested and charged with violating a Texas law on flag desecration. Flag burning was often part of anti-war and anti-government demonstrations during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Johnson appealed his conviction and the case went to the Supreme Court. In 1989, by a five to four vote, the high court ruled flag burning is legally protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees Americans' freedom of speech.

The Johnson decision was hailed as a landmark case expanding the rights of free speech.

“I do think it says a lot positive about American ideals to be able to say, as the court did and as the people have effectively agreed, that you can even take the symbol of our country and burn it and still not be prosecuted for that,” said attorney Elliot Mincberg of People for the American Way.

However, 25 years later, the flag-burning case still evokes strong emotions, especially among military veterans who see the American flag as a vital symbol of democracy.

“The American flag is more than just a piece of cloth," said retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant Louis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, the largest veterans group in the United States. "It is representative of the sacrifices of the American soldiers. It is representative of the triumphs and also of the struggles of the American people over the course of over 200 years.”

Celli hopes to convince Congress to protect the flag through enactment of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That requires the support of two-thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives and three-quarters of the 50 U.S. states.  

“It is not just the veterans that would be voting on this," he said. "It is the American people and again, overwhelmingly, we find that the American people would support such an amendment.”

A 2006 public opinion poll found 56 percent of those surveyed supported a constitutional amendment to protect the flag, less than the high of 71 percent in a poll shortly after the Supreme Court ruling in 1989.

Free speech advocates like Elliot Mincberg consider the flag-burning case settled law and do not see the kind of political momentum now that would lead to a constitutional amendment. 

“The American Constitution protects the right of all citizens to disagree, to peacefully protest, even some of the more important symbols of our republic, and that protection is what provides the freedom that Americans so cherish, here and around the world,” Mincberg said.

But the American Legion's Celli says his group will continue to fight.

“To make sure that the people now have the choice to vote on a constitutional change that will protect the symbol of the United States of America,” he said.

Celli hopes to convince the next Congress, beginning in 2015, to consider the flag amendment.  

In the years following the Supreme Court ruling, several attempts to pass an amendment protecting the flag from desecration failed.  

The most recent attempt came in 2006 when the measure was passed by the House, but defeated in the Senate by a single vote.

You May Like

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the US are seeing gas prices dip below $3 a gallon More

Afghan Women's Soccer Team Building for the Future

A four-team female league was recently set up in Kabul; It will help identify players for the national team More

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

Pyongyang threatens nuclear test as joint US, S. Korean exercises show forces’ capabilities More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: John from: Rhode Island
June 25, 2014 9:01 PM
Flag Burning is a form of ''free speach'' not a ''Hate Crime'' But saying the ''N'' word is a ''Federal Crime'' but flag burning is A free of speech.issue.Or saying Anti-semitic words Is offensive. Yet the very ones who burn the flag are the ones who fall under its protection.


by: maithe from: Paris, France
June 21, 2014 6:04 AM
Totally shameful !
Nothing to do with "free speech"
Wake up America !


by: pete from: usa
June 21, 2014 12:06 AM
“The American flag is more than just a piece of cloth," said retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant Louis Celli...excuse me but to me it is just a piece of cloth...freedom is in the heart not a piece of cloth and I also am retired U.S. Army


by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
June 20, 2014 8:15 PM
National flags may represent patriotism of soldiers but also represent their brutality to enemies. It makes no sense to pay too much worth to a kind of cloth.


by: Mark from: Virginia
June 20, 2014 7:43 PM
It is desecration of a National symbol, the flag of the United States of America. It should be a protected symbol, inviolate. Free Speech can take a back seat to this one, what about Respect? What about Honor? Sacrifice?
How much blood, American blood was spilled defending that piece of cloth? How much American blood was soaked into the ground to protect this country, to protect the Rights of all Americans, to protect that flag, a symbol of this Nation?
What do you see when you look upon the Flag of the United States of America? I see the representation of a great country, flawed at times (then again, what country isn't), I see the sacrifices that were made on our behalf by voices that are stilled by death defending our freedoms. I see Hope, I see Pride, I see the vision of what our Founding Fathers had in mind.
I am a Veteran, I fought for this country during Desert Storm, I fought for that scrap of cloth we call a Flag, I bled for it, I lost buddies who died protecting all that it stands for. My father fought for this country, he was wounded in the Korean Conflict. To burn that flag in protest, in my opinion, is and always will be a slap in the face of all Americans who fought and bled and died for this great Land.
When an American flag is worn out and no longer serviceable it is burned, yes, but it is first folded properly, with honor and respect, and then burned with respect and dignity. It is meant to be a solemn occasion, not one steeped in angry protest.

For the Supreme Court, 25 years ago, to have voted to protect an individual's right to Free Speech through the desecration and dishonoring of the Flag of the United States of America only proves that even Justices of this land's highest Court lacked respect and honor for the country they served.

It just sickens me to see a treasured symbol of this Nation to be dishonored in such a way.

In Response

by: Mark from: Virginia
June 21, 2014 8:23 PM
To Pete from usa...there was nothing in my commentary that said it was unlawful. Disrespectful, dishonorable, yes, nothing that said unlawful. I stated that it SHOULD be protected under the law from such desecration, not that it should be unlawful to do so. The Supreme Court ruled that it is not unlawful, and I do not agree with the Supreme Court ruling, but I never said it is unlawful.
My opinions, yes. And they do count, just as your opinion counts, otherwise we would not deign to express them if we did not think they did not count.

In Response

by: pete from: usa
June 21, 2014 12:02 AM
every thing you say is your opinion but not mine and yours doesn't count any more than mine..so what gives you the right to say my views is unlawful

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid