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Symbols are a very important part of US history. Symbols such as the presidential seal, the liberty bell and of course the US flag, all represent the democracy and freedom we enjoy. But do these symbols have a special place in our hearts and in the eyes of the law? Should they be protected by legal means to prevent them from being destroyed or desecrated?
That was the case in Texas vs. Johnson in 1989. Protesting the Republican National Convention and policies of the Ronald Regan administration, Gregory Johnson set fire to an American Flag. While no one was injured, Johnson was arrested for desecration of a venerated object. He was convicted of the crime and sentence to one year in prison.
The case before the appeals courts all the way up to the Supreme Court needed to decide if Johnson’s freedom of speech, though non-verbal, legally outweighs the Texas’ law protecting the flag as a symbol of unity. Appeals courts and the Supremes decided that the freedom of speech must be protected for all citizens.
This decision stands as one of the most important ‘free speech’ cases recognizing the individual’s right to express themselves no matter the offence it will or might do to others. The court rules as it done in the past, you don’t have to like what they say, but you can’t stop someone from saying it.