When Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag while demonstrating outside the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, the police hauled him in for violating a 1973 flag protection law. Big surprise. But no one anticipated that Johnson’s insurgency would lead to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1989 ruling that torching the Stars and Stripes is protected by the Constitution. The national furor that resulted is wonderfully detailed in Flag Burning and Free Speech: The Case of Texas v. Johnson (University Press of Kansas), by Robert Justin Goldstein, a professor at Michigan’s Oakland University. President George Bush and most of Congress immediately spearheaded a movement to ban flag desecration by means of a constitutional amendment. It required a diabolical strategy and (arguably dishonest) testimony from liberals to divert votes and momentum away from the amendment and toward a Flag Protection Act—which the libs knew would be unconstitutional. Goldstein offers penetrating insight into America’s near-mystical reverence for the flag, wading through the judicial and sociopolitical mire to explain it all to the man on the street.
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