Gregory Lee Johnson was arrested for burning an American flag as a means of protesting President Reagan’s policies. He timed his demonstration to coincide with the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas. The delegates were meeting to renominate Reagan for president. He was convicted of violating a Texas law that made it a crime to desecrate a state or national flag, and was fined $2,000, and sentenced to a year in the county jail. Johnson appealed his conviction up to the United States Supreme Court. On March 21, 1989, the case of Texas v. Johnson was argued before the Court, and on June 21, 1989, the Court held in Johnson’s favor. Justice Brennan explained, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”
I recommend listening to the oral argument in this case at http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1988/1988_88_155. Several of Justice Antonin Scalia’s comments draw laughter.