Argued: United States v. Eichman — The U.S. Supreme Court will rule 5-4 that the government cannot ban flag burning.
This case combines two cases of people who burned flags in protest against the Flag Protection Act of 1989, passed by Congress after the Supreme Court's Texas v. Johnson decision, which ruled that flag burning is constitutionally protected.
Justice William J. Brennan writes in the majority decision:
"[T]he Government's asserted interest in protecting the "physical integrity" of a privately owned flag in order to preserve the flag's status as a symbol of the Nation and certain national ideals is related to the suppression, and concerned with the content, of free expression.
The mere destruction or disfigurement of a symbol's physical manifestation does not diminish or otherwise affect the symbol itself.
The Government's interest is implicated only when a person's treatment of the flag communicates a message to others that is inconsistent with the identified ideals.
The precise language of the Act's prohibitions confirms Congress' interest in the communicative impact of flag destruction, since each of the specified terms — with the possible exception of "burns" — unmistakably connotes disrespectful treatment of the flag and suggests a focus on those acts likely to damage the flag's symbolic value, and since the explicit exemption for disposal of "worn or soiled" flags protects certain acts traditionally associated with patriotic respect for the flag. [emphasis added]"
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