“Red, white and blue, we spit on you.” The case of <i>Texas v. Johnson</i>, the issue of free speech and the “cult of the flag”

2005 2005

Other formats: Order a copy

Abstract (summary)

On August 22nd, 1984, Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag in protest to the nomination of Ronald Reagan and the policies of the Republican Party during the 1980s. Johnson was later arrested by Dallas Police and charged for violating Texas Penal Code 42.09, which prohibited the desecration of a venerated object. During his trial, Johnson claimed he was expressing his first amendment right of free speech and that the Texas law was designed to suppress that expression. The prosecution claimed that Johnson's actions could have caused a breach of the peace and the Texas law was written to protect the public, as well as preserve a symbol of American national unity.

This thesis will first look at the history of the American flag and attempts to create a ‘cult of the flag’ and protect it from any harm against rising immigration during the last half of the 19th century. The events leading up to the burning will be examined along with Johnson's challenge to the law and the path the case took through the appellate courts. The thesis will also analyze the nearly one hundred years of case precedent that was used to help decide Texas v. Johnson (1989). The justices of the Supreme Court who made the final decision in 1989 will also be studied and how they balanced the first amendment right of free speech against burning the American flag and whether such action posed a danger toward the unity of the United States. Finally, public reaction toward the decision will be explored and show that while the flag was very popular, individual rights won out over forced patriotism and the ‘cult of the flag’.

Indexing (details)

American history
0337: American history
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Gregory Lee Johnson
“Red, white and blue, we spit on you.” The case of <i>Texas v. Johnson</i>, the issue of free speech and the “cult of the flag”
Long, Jeffrey Kyle
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
MAI 44/01M, Masters Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
9780542191046, 0542191040
Cawthon, Elisabeth
The University of Texas at Arlington
University location
United States -- Texas
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
Access the complete full text

You can get the full text of this document if it is part of your institution's ProQuest subscription.

Try one of the following:

  • Connect to ProQuest through your library network and search for the document from there.
  • Request the document from your library.
  • Go to the ProQuest login page and enter a ProQuest or My Research username / password.