1965 August 30

LBJ Signs Draft Card-Burning Law


President Lyndon Johnson signed a law on this day that made burning a draft card a crime. Anti-Vietnam War protesters burned or otherwise destroyed their draft cards to protest the war (see October 15, 1965, March 31, 1966). The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law in United States v. O’Brien, on May 27, 1968, rejecting the argument that burning a draft card was a form of symbolic speech. Many civil libertarians regarded the decision as surprising, given the generally strong pro-free speech posture of the Warren Court.

Anti-Vietnam War protests also included burning of the American flag. In response, Congress passed an amended Flag Desecration Act on July 5, 1968. Interestingly, in the 1990s, a more conservative Court upheld the constitutionality of burning the American flag as a form of political protest, in Texas v. Johnson, on June 21, 1989, and in United States v. Eichman. on June 11, 1990.

The Vietnam War created a number of civil liberties crises. They include (1) the lack of a Congressional Declaration of War as required by the Constitution (June 3, 1970); (2) threats to freedom of the press in the Pentagon Papers case (June 30, 1971); (3) spying on the anti-war movement by the CIA (August 15, 1967); (4) threats to freedom of expression, for example high school student protests (February 24, 1969); censorship of television programs (February 25, 1968); and directly and indirectly some of the events that led to the Watergate Scandal (May 9, 1969; January 27, 1972).

Watch anti-Vietnam War draft card burning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2d4yyqeheA

Read: Michael Foley, Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance During the Vietnam War (2003)

Read first-hand accounts of 1960s-1970s radicals: Clara Bingham, Witness to the Revolution: Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year America Lost its Mind and Found its Soul (2016)

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