"The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections". - Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference into public affairs. Freedom of expression consists of the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and the implied rights of association and belief.
The Court has interpreted the First Amendment to apply to the entire federal government even though it's only supposed to be applied to the Congress. The First Amendment was written because at America's beginning, citizens ordered to have a guarantee of their basic freedoms. Without the First Amendment, religious minorities could be persecuted, the government might well establish a national religion, protesters could be silenced, the press could not criticize government, and citizens couldn't assemble for social change. Most people believe in the right to free speech, but debate whether it should cover flag-burning, hard-core rap and heavy-metal lyrics, tobacco advertising, hate speech, pornography, nude dancing, solicitation and various forms of symbolic speech; though many would agree to limiting some forms of free expression. A Phrase that is often used to describe expression that is combined with elements of conduct is "Symbolic Expression". The Supreme Court has dealt with a series of cases and has made it clear that symbolic expression or expressive conduct may be protected by the First Amendment.
There have been a plethora of cases on this issue and they have been extremely controversial. One remarkable one was Texas vs. Johnson in 1984 during a Republican National Convention; it was about a man who expressed his displeasure with the United States by burning an American Flag. This action of his took Gregory Johnson to court and the court came to a conclusion that burning the flag was "speech" and again determined that Johnson was only trying to send out a message through his perspective by the burning the flag. It has come to the court's attention that speech neutral-laws, such as those that are applied to burning flags in public generally, might be constitutionally applied to flag burners. After this case the court confronted yet another case on the same issue, this time they considered the constitutionality of the Federal Flag Protection Act of 1989 that was passed by a Congress which was unhappy with the Court's decision in the Johnson case. But even in this one the court sided with the protester, a man who set the flag on fire on the steps of the United States Capital.
They found the act to be an attempt to restrain unpopular speech. The Court's decisions on cases that contain the issue of flag burning has got the congress to make several attempts to pass a constitutional amendment permitting the punishment of flag burning and damage to the flag. So far the proposed amendment has fallen short of the two-thirds support necessary in the Senate.