Brief Fact Summary. On the morning of March 31, 1966, the Respondents, David Paul O’Brien (O’Brien) and three companions (Respondents), burned their Selective Service registration certificates on the steps of the South Boston Courthouse. A sizeable crowd, including several agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), witnessed the event. Immediately after the burning, O’Brien stated to FBI agents that he had burned his registration certificate because of his beliefs, knowing that he was violating federal law.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A governmental regulation is sufficiently justified if it: (1) is within the constitutional power of the government; (2) if it furthers an important or substantial governmental interest; (3) if the governmental interest is unrelated to the suppression of free expression and (4) if the incidental restriction on alleged First Amendment constitutional freedoms is no greater than is essential to the furtherance of that interest.
Issue. Is the 1965 Amendment unconstitutional as applied to O’Brien because his act of burning the registration certificate was protected “symbolic speech” within the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution)?
Held. The 1965 Amendment meets all of the requirements vis-