Smith v. Goguen - Wikipedia

Smith v. Goguen
Argued November 12–13, 1973
Decided March 25, 1974
Full case nameSmith v. Goguen
Citations415 U.S. 566 (more)
94 S. Ct. 1242; 39 L. Ed. 2d 605; 1974 U.S. LEXIS 113
Case history
PriorAppeal from the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
Flag desecration laws that prohibit "contemptuous" treatment of the flag are overly broad.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William O. Douglas · William J. Brennan Jr.
Potter Stewart · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
Case opinions
MajorityPowell, joined by Douglas, Brennan, Stewart, Marshall
DissentBlackmun, joined by Burger
DissentRehnquist, joined by Burger
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. I, XIV

Smith v. Goguen, 415 U.S. 566 (1974), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that flag desecration laws that prohibit "contemptuous" treatment of the flag are overly broad.


Goguen, a teenager from Massachusetts, was arrested by police for wearing a small cloth US flag on the seat of his pants. When arrested, Goguen was standing on the sidewalk, talking; he was not engaged in any demonstration. Goguen was convicted and sentenced to 6 months in jail for violating a flag desecration law encompassing anyone who treats the flag "contemptuously". His conviction was upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Assisted by the ACLU, Goguen appealed to the Federal court, and the Federal court overturned his conviction. Massachusetts appealed to the US Supreme Court.

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The Supreme Court, in a 6 to 3 decision, sided with Goguen, and ruled that the statute was too vague. The Court partially relied on prior decisions which prohibited states from compelling people to salute the flag: "neither the United States nor any State may require any individual to salute or express favorable attitudes toward the flag."

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