Even though one-half of Penn & Teller doesn’t talk, the duo has just struck a blow for freedom of speech.
A federal judge last week threw out a lawsuit, filed by a group that advocates the teaching of creationism in Cobb County, Ga., public schools, against Viacom, which produces Penn & Teller’s Showtime series Bullshit!. The magicians/debunkers ran afoul of the creationists with a 2003 episode that included interviews with the activists and their testimony at a school board meeting arguing that text books should bear stickers stating evolution is just a theory.
The plaintiffs claimed the release forms they signed were misleading. The show, they found, was “an aggressive, irreverent exposé of the beliefs of Christianity and Creationism, and a personal attack.” The plaintiffs claimed fraud and breach of contract, but the defense convinced the judge that it was a defamation case—and thus a First Amendment issue.
On March 1, U.S. district court Judge Charles Pannell Jr. dismissed the claim before it could go to trial. Vincent Chieffo, an attorney representing the show’s producers, Showtime and Viacom, welcomed the decision: “If you’re in the First Amendment business, it’s expensive to litigate and it’s expensive to win.” Plaintiffs’ attorney James Creasy says he does not know if his clients will appeal. Having survived in the Darwinian world of the TV business, Bullshit! returns for a third season on April 25.