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“What a Coincidence,
My flag was Made in Korea.”
Although delivered as a joke, “Burning Issue” was a piece that accurately reflected Bill’s utter disdain for the most ignorant, right-wing, self-proclaimed Christians, who, in the name of patriotism, took violent issue with the (1989) holding of the United States Supreme Court, that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution “protects every American’s right to (non-violent) free speech, even those who would dare to destroy an inanimate object of the white supremacist’s arbitrary and authoritatively selected symbol. when burning their own inanimate in the desecration of a symbol, some might find sacred.”
photograph b/ dave hogerty (originalnoise.org)
I was confident he would, so not surprised, when asked, Bill agreed to stand for the picture of him lighting a cigarette with a burning American flag.
“That’s a good idea,” Bill answered immediately, and then, without hesitation, he continued to show why he was the socially conscious comedian of his generation, with a reputation in the company of Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, “I like the cigarette idea,” he said, “but I’d rather you take a picture of me pulling a knotted flag out of my ass.” This a reference to a New York City photographer named Robert Mapplethorpe, who was to another government assault on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. An argument raged as to whether the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe’s homo-erotic photographs were art or pornography, as if the right-wing Christians had any right to say.
All this as America entered the 1990s, with its we’re white to be right and right to be white, onward christian soldier, attitude.
AND THEN CAME BILL. — “As a young boy in America, I was always told that I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be. I could be a fireman, a policeman, a doctor, and then, for the first time in the history of mankind, something called an astronaut. Shit, I could even be President Of The United States.
“But, like so many kids (especially in Texas), I was brought up on a steady diet of Westerns, and what I always wanted to be was the avenging cowboy hero — that lone voice in the wilderness, fighting corruption and evil wherever I found it … Always standing for Freedom, Truth, and Justice.
“In my heart of hearts, I still track the remnants of that dream wherever I go … in my endless ride into the setting sun.”
— BILL HICKS (1961-1994)
that’s mr. “skinhead” to you.
TODAY — Donald Trump “tweets” out his belief that anyone daring to burn an American flag should lose their citizenship, and have the shit kicked out of them before being thrown into the back of an unmarked van.
Of course Rush Limbaugh agrees that ight be the most notorious Trump-sucker there is, and he hasn’t changed since Bill Hicks described him in 1993. This was part of Bill’s last recording (Rant in E Minor), released only four months before Bill died. It was a sad day for the now languishing progressive movement … a day when the left wing lost the voice of it’s most viciously funny, and consequential, social commentator.
1993 — Bill Hicks’ description of Rush Limbaugh, Ronald Reagan, and the day’s republican hierarchy is arrogant, aggressive, and often pornographic … BRUTALLY HONEST, VICIOUSLY FUNNY, and ALWAYS TRUE. Why the “TRUTH HURTS,” and “COMEDY KILLS.”
TEXAS v. JOHNSON (1989)
Gregory Lee “Joey” Johnson, then a member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, participated in a political demonstration during the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas. The demonstrators were protesting the policies of the Reagan Administration and of certain companies based in Dallas. They marched through the streets, shouted chants, destroyed property, broke windows and threw trash, soiled diapers, beer cans and various other items, and held signs outside the offices of several companies.
At one point, another demonstrator handed Johnson an American flag stolen from a flagpole outside one of the targeted buildings. When the demonstrators reached Dallas City Hall, Johnson poured kerosene on the flag and set it on fire. During the burning of the flag, demonstrators shouted such phrases as, “America, the red, white, and blue, we spit on you, you stand for plunder, you will go under,” and, “Reagan, Mondale, which will it be? Either one means World War III.”
No one was hurt, but some witnesses to the flag burning said they were extremely offended. One witness, Daniel E. Walker, received international attention when he collected the burned remains of the flag and buried them according to military protocol in his backyard.
<style=”font-family: Verdana,Geneva;”>Johnson was charged with violating the Texas law that prohibits vandalizing respected objects (desecration of a venerated object). He was convicted, sentenced to one year in prison, and fined $2,000.
He appealed his conviction to the Fifth Court of Appeals of Texas, but he lost this appeal. On appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals the court overturned his conviction, saying that the State could not punish Johnson for burning the flag because the First Amendment protects such activity as symbolic speech.
The court said, “Recognizing that the right to differ is the centerpiece of our First Amendment freedoms, a government cannot mandate by fiat a feeling of unity in its citizens. Therefore that very same government cannot carve out a symbol of unity and prescribe a set of approved messages to be associated with that symbol.” The court also concluded that the flag burning in this case did not cause or threaten to cause a breach of the peace.
Texas asked the Supreme Court of the United States to hear the case. In 1989,
the Court handed down its decision.
A statute that criminalizes the desecration of the American flag violates the First Amendment.
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed.
SUPREME COURT MEMBERSHIP
William Rehnquist (Chief Justice)
William J. Brennan, Jr.
John P. Stevens
Sandra Day O’Connor
Majority — Brennan, joined by: Marshall, Blackmun, Scalia, Marshall, Blackmun, Scalia, Kennedy
Concurrence — Kennedy
Dissent— Rehnquist, joined by: White and O’Connor
U.S. Const. amend. I; Desecration of a Venerated Object, Tex. Penal Code § 42.09(a)(3)
Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that invalidated prohibitions on desecrating the American flag enforced in 48 of the 50 states. 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.
Justice Brennan — The opinion of the Court came down as a controversial 5–4 decision, with the majority opinion delivered by William J. Brennan, Jr. and Justices Marshall, Blackmun, Scalia, and Kennedy joining Brennan, with Kennedy also writing a concurrence.
The Court first considered the question of whether the First Amendment protected non-speech acts, since Johnson was convicted of flag desecration rather than verbal communication, and, if so, whether Johnson’s burning of the flag constituted expressive conduct, which would permit him to invoke the First Amendment in challenging his conviction.
The First Amendment specifically disallows the abridgment of “speech,” but the court reiterated its long recognition that its protection does not end at the spoken or written word. This was an uncontroversial conclusion in light of cases such as Stromberg v. California (display of a red flag as speech) and Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (wearing of a black armband as speech).
The Court rejected “the view that an apparently limitless variety of conduct can be labeled ‘speech’ whenever the person engaging in the conduct intends thereby to express an idea,” but acknowledged that conduct may be “sufficiently imbued with elements of communication to fall within the scope of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.” In deciding whether particular conduct possesses sufficient communicative elements to bring the First Amendment into play, the court asked whether “an intent to convey a particularized message was present, and [whether] the likelihood was great that the message would be understood by those who viewed it.”
The Court found that, “Under the circumstances, Johnson’s burning of the flag constituted expressive conduct, permitting him to invoke the First Amendment. … Occurring as it did at the end of a demonstration coinciding with the Republican National Convention, the expressive, overtly political nature of the conduct was both intentional and overwhelmingly apparent.” The court concluded that, while “the government generally has a freer hand in restricting expressive conduct than it has in restricting the written or spoken word,” it may not “proscribe particular conduct because it has expressive elements.”
Texas had conceded, however, that Johnson’s conduct was expressive in nature. Thus, the key question considered by the Court was “whether Texas has asserted an interest in support of Johnson’s conviction that is unrelated to the suppression of expression.”
At oral argument, the state defended its statute on two grounds: first, that states had a compelling interest in preserving a venerated national symbol; and second, that the state had a compelling interest in preventing breaches of the peace.
As to the “breach of the peace” justification, however, the Court found that “no disturbance of the peace actually occurred or threatened to occur because of Johnson’s burning of the flag,” and Texas conceded as much. The Court rejected Texas’s claim that flag burning is punishable on the basis that it “tends to incite” breaches of the peace by citing the familiar test of Brandenburg v. Ohio that the state may only punish speech that would incite “imminent lawless action,” finding that flag burning does not always pose an imminent threat of lawless action. The Court noted that Texas already punished “breaches of the peace” directly.
KENNEDY’S CONCURRENCE — For we are presented with a clear and simple statute to be judged against a pure command of the Constitution. The outcome can be laid at no door but ours. The hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions we do not like. We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result. And so great is our commitment to the process that, except in the rare case, we do not pause to express distaste for the result, perhaps for fear of undermining a valued principle that dictates the decision. This is one of those rare cases.
Though symbols often are what we ourselves make of them, the flag is constant in expressing beliefs Americans share, beliefs in law and peace and that freedom which sustains the human spirit. The case here today forces recognition of the costs to which those beliefs commit us. It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt.
REHNQUIST’S DISSENT — Brennan’s opinion for the court generated two dissents. William H. Rehnquist, joined by Justices White and O’Connor, argued that the “unique status” of the flag “justifies a governmental prohibition against flag burning in the way respondent Johnson did here.” Rehnquist wrote,
The American flag, then, throughout more than 200 years of our history, has come to be the visible symbol embodying our Nation. It does not represent the views of any particular political party, and it does not represent any particular political philosophy. The flag is not simply another “idea” or “point of view” competing for recognition in the marketplace of ideas. Millions and millions of Americans regard it with an almost mystical reverence regardless of what sort of social, political, or philosophical beliefs they may have. I cannot agree that the First Amendment invalidates the Act of Congress, and the laws of 48 of the 50 States, which make criminal the public burning of the flag.
However, the Johnson majority found the lack of evidence for flag protection in the Constitution that necessitated the claim of “uniqueness” to counter indicate protection of the flag from free speech. They answered the “uniqueness” claim directly: “We have not recognized an exception to [bedrock First Amendment principles] even where our flag has been involved. … There is, moreover, no indication—either in the text of the Constitution or in our cases interpreting it—that a separate juridical category exists for the American flag alone…We decline, therefore, to create for the flag an exception to the joust of principles protected by the First Amendment.”
Rehnquist also argued that flag burning is “no essential part of any exposition of ideas” but rather “the equivalent of an inarticulate grunt or roar that, it seems fair to say, is most likely to be indulged in not to express any particular idea, but to antagonize others.” He goes on to say that he felt the statute in question was a reasonable restriction only on the manner in which Johnson’s idea was expressed, leaving Johnson with, “a full panoply of other symbols and every conceivable form of verbal expression to express his deep disapproval of national policy.” He quotes a 1984 Supreme Court decision in City Council of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent, where the majority stated that, “the First Amendment does not guarantee the right to employ every conceivable method of communication at all times and in all places.”
STEVENS’ DISSENT — Justice John Paul Stevens also wrote a dissenting opinion. Stevens argued that the flag “is more than a proud symbol of the courage, the determination, and the gifts of nature that transformed 13 fledgling Colonies into a world power. It is a symbol of freedom, of equal opportunity, of religious tolerance, and of good will for other peoples who share our aspirations. … The value of the flag as a symbol cannot be measured.” Stevens concluded, therefore, that “The case has nothing to do with ‘disagreeable ideas.’ It involves disagreeable conduct that, in my opinion, diminishes the value of an important national asset,” and that Johnson was punished only for the means by which he expressed his opinion, not the opinion itself.
SUBSEQUENT DEVELOPMENTS — The Court’s decision invalidated laws in force in 48 of the 50 states. More than two decades later, the issue remained controversial, with polls suggesting that a majority of Americans still supported a ban on flag-burning. Congress did, however, pass a statute, the 1989 Flag Protection Act, making it a federal crime to desecrate the flag. In the case of United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990), that law was struck down by the same five person majority of justices as in Johnson (in an opinion also written by Justice Brennan). Since then, Congress has considered the Flag Desecration Amendment several times. The amendment usually passes the House of Representatives, but has always been defeated in the Senate.
The most recent attempt occurred when S.J.Res.12 failed by one vote on June 27, 2006.
After listening to Bill, you have to know how disgusted he’d be to know that so many of the flaming fascist, below average, white supremacist, InfoWar freak, and “see” his description of of the day’s republican hierarchy, and imagine what he’d say today, about Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and the alt-right’s Breitbart News, Favorite Pussy, Milo Yiannopoulos. Understand, it’s going to be a description far less pretty than Yiannopoulos Milo thinks he is.