Texas law preventing destruction of flags ruled 'unconstitutional'

A Texas law that makes it illegal to vandalize the state or American flags has been ruled unconstitutional.

"It's a symbol of our freedom and it pretty much tells about our history," said Bea Canales, Commander of VFW Post 8925.

The 26-year-old law was tossed out by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Wednesday afternoon.

The law was challenged after a 20-year-old man, Terrance Johnson, in Lovelady was arrested for throwing a store's American flag on the street, but in a 6-3 decision the state appeals court ruled the law violated the right to free speech.

"It's a hard issue for a lot of people, because it's desecration. And a lot of us who have family who have been injured or died in the wars for our country have a very hard time with that idea," said Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project Jim Harrington. 

"The men and the women, soldiers, Marines, sailors, air force men, we fought for that freedom and you're just spitting it back in our face," Canales said. "With our flags, we treat it with respect with dignity and respect," Canales added.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled destruction of the U.S. flag is protected speech before the Texas law was ever enacted.

"The U.S. Supreme Court said the same thing. You may not like it, but this is classic free-speech activity," Harrington said. "And the whole idea of the Bill of Rights is to protect minority speech and desecration is minority speech." 

Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the Texas law is unconstitutional.

"If it came back to the court, or a court, it would have to follow the Supreme Court decision," Harrington said. 

That doesn't sit well with Commander Canales.

"If somebody says, 'Oh well, it's freedom of speech.' Whose freedom gave that to you? We did. We fought for it. We fought for your freedom and you're over here trampling on it," said Canales. 

Texas Civil Rights Project Director Jim Harrington said he doesn't expect that just because the law has changed, flag-burning will be commonplace. 

"Every time there's a controversial decision by the courts, there's supposed to be calamity the next day. We've gone 200-300 years now without calamities," Harrington said.      

Texas lawmakers could try to rewrite and enforce a new law regarding desecration of the flags, but, because political speech is the most protected speech, it would be near impossible for it to stand up in court.