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Should Penn and Teller Go To Jail for Flag Burning


Edited verssion of original article by Victoria McNally. This article was originally published at Revelist.

Remembering the time that time Penn and Teller burned a U.S. flag on primetime TV…and they did it in the White House (sort of)!

penn-teller-burn-the-flagBurning the American flag is, to some, one of the most despicable things you can do to protest your country. It’s also, thanks to the Constitution, completely legal and entirely within your rights as a citizen of the United States.

But what if we burn a flag “not in protest, but in celebration of the very freedoms that allow us to burn a flag?” The freedoms that everyone who has ever previously worked in the White House has pledged to preserve and protect?

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a line from a television show — specifically, a 2004 episode of “The West Wing,” where magicians Penn and Teller demonstrated their First Amendment rights by burning the flag at the White House.

The First Amendment “is the one that guarantees not just everybody in this room but every single person in the United States, every citizen, every visitor, every magician, freedom of speech,” Penn Jilette says in the episode — which, remember, was aired on primetime network television during an election year.
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“It’s the one that says if we want to add a little bit of spontaneous combustion to our simple vanish, we can do that. We can take some tinder and a very eccentric magic wand [a lighter] and we can do this — and it’s okay,” he continues], “because even though the flag is gone, the Bill of Rights remains.”

It should be pretty clear to anyone who’s seen a magic trick in their life that the flag was never actually burned. Regardless, the message is still the same: flag burning might shock and appall us, and it might cause a publicity nightmare (freedom of speech, after all, doesn’t mean people have to agree with you), but like it or not it’s protected under the Bill of Rights.

Note: The purpose of this site is to share magic news, not to shate political opinion. Because of that goal, this article has been edited to remove the political opinion of the original writer. To read the article in it’s entirity, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

Of course, the version of this routine that Penn And Teller perform onstage is much more complete and the statement (and the magic) is much less ambigious…or not.

  1. Hell, no. And it’s not a topic that is really related to magic is it?

  2. Its easy to talk about freedom of speech when you agree with the topic. It is not so easy when you find it appealing. I don’t think that any voice should be silenced but, challenged STRONGLY! Since, Penn and Teller never actually burned the flag and it was a magic trick then the subject is closed on them going to jail.

    • Kevin_Allen's_Uncle says:

      Did you mean appalling? I find it appalling – it’s an act of anger, not celebration. No one burns a flag for fun. But dammit that flag represents the very freedom we have to burn that flag. You can challenge, you can argue, that’s absolutely YOUR right. But the subject is closed on going to jail for burning the flag, period. In America, we dont jail people for political commentary, no matter how much we might not like it.

    • Steve in CHGO says:

      Flag burning is a VERY rare occurrence. The figure I heard – admittedly many years ago – is only 2 or 3 times per year. There are MANY issues that are more important.

  3. David Quintin Brown says:

    My son is in the military defending our flag and constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. This topic is as politically off color as it can be but to jail dissidents?
    No way.

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