Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether a New York statute that made it illegal to "publicly [to] mutilate, deface, defile, or defy, trample upon, or cast contempt upon either by words or act [any flag of the United States]" violates the First Amendment.


Reversed and remanded. Petitioning party received a favorable disposition.


Appellant, Sidney Street, having heard a news broadcast of the shooting of James Meredith, a civil rights leader, took an American flag which he owned to a street corner near his home in New York and ignited the flag. He was arrested and thereafter charged by information with malicious mischief for violating 1425, subd. 16, par. d, of the New York Penal Law, which makes it a crime publicly to mutilate or “publicly [to] defy . . . or cast contempt upon [any American flag] either by words or act.” The information charged appellant with burning the American flag and publicly speaking defiant or contemptuous words about the flag. Appellant unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the information on the ground that the statute violated his constitutional right to free expression by punishing him for activity which he contended was a constitutionally protected "demonstration" or "protest." Appellant was tried before a judge without a jury and convicted.

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