Justice William Brennan wrote for a five-justice majority in holding that the defendant Gregory Lee Johnson's act of flag burning was protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Johnson was represented by attorneys David D. Cole and William Kunstler. Johnson was charged with violating the Texas law that prohibits vandalizing respected objects. He was convicted to one-year in prison but then appealed to the court of criminal appeals and won with the argument that he is protected under the first amendment.
Convicted in the first court, appealed to the Fifth Court of Appeals of Texas and lost, and then appealed again to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and won.
The main discussion was, could this non speech act be perceived under the first amendment. The state of Texas had the arguments of preserving a venerated national symbol and preventing breaches of the peace
The Court found that, "Under the circumstances, Johnson's burning of the flag constituted expressive conduct, permitting him to invoke the First Amendment...
The majority of the Court, according to Justice William Brennan, agreed with Johnson and held that flag burning constitutes a form of "symbolic speech" that is protected by the First Amendment. The majority noted that freedom of speech protects actions that society may find very offensive, but society's outrage alone is not justification for suppressing free speech.