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This Is Why It’s Legal to Burn the American Flag

TIME

It was shortly before the Fourth of July in 1989—two centuries after the Constitution of the United States took effect—when the Supreme Court declared that the government could not stop citizens from desecrating the nation’s flag.

“The patriotic mind recoils,” TIME’s Walter Isaacson commented in the weeks that followed the decision. “Reverence for the flag is ingrained in every schoolchild who has quailed at the thought of letting it touch the ground, in every citizen moved by pictures of it being raised at Iwo Jima or planted on the moon, in every veteran who has ever heard taps played at the end of a Memorial Day parade, in every gold-star mother who treasures a neatly folded emblem of her family’s supreme sacrifice.”

Yet, he continued, that was precisely the reason why the court, in the case Texas v. Johnson, declared that federal and state laws that protect the flag…

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