The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide if laws prohibiting the desecration of the American flag violate the First Amendment.

The justices will hear arguments this term in an appeal by the state of Texas, which is seeking to reinstate a one-year prison term given to a demonstrator who burned the American flag during a protest of Reagan administration policies.The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled on April 20, 1988, that the flag burning by Gregory Lee Johnson was protected under the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech.

The court's decision to hear the issue comes in the midst of a presidential election that has focused on patriotism and reverence for the flag - issues that have seen the candidates and Congress debating the merits of the Pledge of Allegiance and sent George Bush campaigning at a flag factory.

Previously, the court has struck down laws requiring citizens to show a special deference for the flag.

In 1943, the court ruled that a West Virginia law requiring children to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional. In 1974, the justices ruled that Washington state officials could not prosecute a man who placed a peace symbol on the flag and hung it from his window.

In other action, the court:

(BU) Let stand the spying convictions of Samuel Loring Morison, who was found guilty of violating federal espionage laws after he disclosed classified information to the news media. The case has created concern in the news media, which fears its wider application could lead to more government control of information.

(BU) Refused to block a $10 million lawsuit against the manufacturer of a government-approved whooping cough vaccine that allegedly caused brain damage in an infant who was inoculated.

(BU) Agreed to hear a Reagan administration appeal aimed at making it easier for the government to conduct tax-fraud investigations. The justices said they will use a California case involving the Church of Scientology to settle a dispute over the power of the Internal Revenue Service to obtain and use confidential documents, particularly communications between lawyers and clients.

(BU) Agreed to decide the standard of appellate review necessary in libel cases in a case brought by Harte-Hanks Communications involving the Hamilton, Ohio, Journal News.

(BU) Said it will decide this term, in a case from Ohio, whether states may enact minimum age requirements in employee benefit plans such as retirement for diabilities.

The flag burning case arose Aug. 22, 1984, when Johnson was arrested during the Republican National Convention for burning an American flag in front of the Dallas City Hall. Johnson said his action was a symbolic protest of Reagan administration policies.

While the flag burned, some protesters chanted, "America, the red, white and blue, we spit on you."

The Texas Court of Appeals overturned Johnson's conviction on grounds that his actions constituted symbolic speech.