Massachusetts teenager Goguen sewed a small U.S. flag to the rear of his pants, and was subsequently arrested for “publicly treat[ing] contemptuously the flag.” Initially sentenced to six months in jail, Goguen won in the Supreme Court when six Justices decided the state law was far too vague and broad to find Goguen’s actions criminal.
Protesting recent U.S. militant action, a college student used removable tape to make a peace sign on an American flag he had on display. He was convicted under a Washington law that forbid adding marks to a flag. Disagreeing with the Washington State Supreme Court, the federal Supreme Court believed the student’s actions to be covered by his First Amendment rights and that this modest and reversible alteration was a reasonable form of protest.
Finally, the flag burning issue was tackled head on. In an act of protest against the Reagan administration, Gregory Johnson burned a flag in front of Dallas City Hall and was later sentenced to one year in jail. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ultimately found that while burning the flag would be considered offensive speech to many, the Constitution ultimately protects this form of expression.
Following the Texas v. Johnson decision, Congress responded by passing the Flag Protection Act to make burning the flag explicitly illegal. Eichman was one of many charged with subsequently burning flags, so he took the case to the Supreme Court. The Justices agreed with their previous ruling on the issue, declaring that burning a flag is a form of free speech.
Photo Credit: Frydolin
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