.. landmark case, Johnson participated in a political demonstration to protest the policies of the Reagan. After a long street march, Johnson burned an American flag as a symbol of his contempt for Reagan. No one was hurt or threatened with injury, although the flag burning seriously offended several witnesses. Johnson was convicted of desecration of a venerated object in violation of a Texas statute.
The case first went to the state of appeals, where they affirmed the punishment, but then the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, holding that the State, consistent with the First Amendment, could not punish Johnson for burning the flag in these circumstances. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The court found that Johnson’s burning of the flag was expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. They also concluded that the State could not criminally sanction flag desecration in order to preserve the flag as a symbol of national unity. The court closed their decision in this case with the following words: The ideas of liberty and equality have been an irresistible force in motivating leaders like Patrick Henry, Susan B.
Anthony, and Abraham Lincoln, schoolteachers like Nathan Hale and Booker T. Washington, the Philippine Scouts who fought at Bataan, and the soldiers who scaled the bluff at Omaha Beach. If those ideas are worth fighting for – and our history demonstrates that they are – it cannot be true that the flag that uniquely symbolizes their power is not itself worthy of protection from unnecessary desecration. In this case, free speech was fully granted, and it was a great win for Americans everywhere. Benjamin Gitlow had been a prominent member of the Socialist party during the 1920s. He was arrested and convicted for violating the New York Criminal Anarchy Law, which made it illegal to attempt to advocate the overthrow of government. Gitlow’s publication and circulation of his left-wing Manifesto violated this act.
The pamphlet went on to support the creation of a socialist system through the use of massive strikes and class action. Gitlow was tried and convicted. He appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that his First Amendment right to freedom of speech was violated. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Gitlow. It stated in its decision that “for present purposes, we may assume that freedom of speech and of press..are among the fundamental personal rights and liberties protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the State.” This case was officially called Gitlow v.
New York, and it was heard in 1925, many years before the Business Executives’ Move for Vietnam Peace was deprived of air time by the FCC. What makes these forms of freedom of speech different? Nothing. However in one case, free speech was granted, and in another case, it was taken away. Feiner v. New York was another case where free speech resulted in an arrest and an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Irving Feiner was arrested on March 8th, 1949, for disorderly conduct. Feiner had been speaking out against President Truman, and local officials atop a podium on a street corner. A crowd of nearly 100 people gathered to watch as he urged blacks to violently oppose the injustices of society. The crowd was of a mixed opinion, and they became more and more unruly as the night went on. It wasnt long before the police arrested Feiner and broke up the gathering.
The police, prior to the arrest, had asked him three times to get off the podium, and he had refused each time, claiming his First Amendment right to free speech. Feiner was convicted and appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that the arrest did not hamper Feiner’s right to free speech, stating “it is one thing to say that the police cannot be used as an instrument of suppression of unpopular views, and another to say that..they are powerless to prevent a breach of the peace.” This was another win for free speech, but it was only 1948. There was a lot more injustice to come. The six cases just cited were six well known Supreme Court cases.
Three of them displayed how the Supreme Court has the power to grant free speech, and three of them displayed how they have the power to take it away. The main question at hand is why some people are punished for free speech, when some arent. Johnson has the right to free speech because free speech is “worth fighting for”, but Schenck doesnt have the right to free speech just because his propaganda is more controversial? . As society has changed, and the public perception of freedom of speech has changed, so has the way the Supreme Court looks at the first amendment. It seems that the only way fair judgment can be made in every case is to either set a strict set of guidelines for free speech, or to make it absolute.
Although neither of these things will happen in the near future, its a great thought to have. After all, we live in a FREE country. The only question remaining is how free we really are. Bibliography Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S.
47 p. 49 Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 p. 51 Schenck p.
52 CBS, Inc. v. Democratic National Committee, 412 U.S. 94 p. 98-9 City Council of Los Angeles v. Vincent, 466 U.S. 789 p.
791 Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court, Elder Witt, 2nd Edition (Congressional Quarterly: 1990) p. 114 Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court, Elder Witt, 2nd Edition (Congressional Quarterly: 1990) p 115 Texas v.
Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 p. 55 Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 p.
102 Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 p. 104 Feiner v. New York, 340 U.S.
315 Feiner v. New York, 340 U.S. 315 p. 44 Web Sites aiding in searching for Supreme Court transcripts: http://www.findlaw.com http://www.law.cornell.edu http://oyez.nwu.edu/cases/cases.cgi?mode=subjects& command=do search&andor=any&keywords=Freedom+of+Speech.