ARCHIVAL VIDEO: U.S. Supreme Court Rules on Flag Burning in 1989

June 21, 1989: The Supreme Court ruled that flag burning is considered a type of protected free speech under the First Amendment.
2:30 | 11/29/16

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Transcript for ARCHIVAL VIDEO: U.S. Supreme Court Rules on Flag Burning in 1989
We begin tonight with the decision by S supposedly conservative Supreme Court. It's about free speech and a powerful symbol of the nation. The court ruled today that burning the American flag as a form of political protest is a right protected by the First Amendment to the constitution. The decision reflects a very divided court the debate as always deeply divides the country our first reported from our law correspondent Tim O'Brien. Today's ruling involved this demonstration during the Republican National Convention in 1984. A demonstration that included the burning of the American flag. Gregory Johnson to a 2000 dollar fine and a year in prison for violating a Texas law that makes the desecration of the flag all felonies. Today the Supreme Court ruled such laws violate the First Amendment right to free speech and set aside Johnson's conviction I think it's an important victories that the home. You know it's tremendous that the government was forced to back off the court was sharply split. Justice William Brennan for the majority the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds it offensive board disagreeable. That would dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents. To Reagan appointees Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy both conservatives provided crucial votes for the five judge majority. The four dissenters were led by Chief Justice William Rehnquist who complained the government Macon script men to fight and perhaps die for the flag but with today's ruling. May not prohibit the public burning of the banner under which they fight. Flag burning is the equivalent of an inarticulate grunt or Rohr said the Chief Justice. Most likely not intended to express any particular idea but to antagonize others. The ruling which casts doubt on laws in nearly every state against desecrating the flag a produced sharp reaction. Well have been a lot of talk lately about the Supreme Court of the United States is building right. Holliday had been killed ride it till the wrong. The flag as a symbol of national unity and under the deserves respect what the flag is all about after all. As a vindication of American freedom. And what the court has done today is to vindicate that freedom. The court's ruling makes it clear that flag burning like other demonstrations may still be prohibited if it's likely to produce violence the court also made it clear that laws aimed at protecting the flag may not be at the expense of those values the flag has come to represent. Tim O'Brien ABC news Washington.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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