Is “Bingo” Just the Beginning?

March 21st, 2013

What was Austin Whaley thinking?

While out walking his dog, the Kentucky teenager decided to walk into a bingo parlor and yell “bingo” mid game.  Since Austin didn’t have “bingo” nor was he even playing, his outrageous act caused “alarm to patrons” playing there.  At least that’s how his offense was spelled out on the citation he received for disorderly conduct after being handcuffed by an off-duty police officer working security at the location.

A judge ordered Austin not to walk his dog by the bingo parlor or say the word “bingo” for six months.

I’m sure he can avoid the bingo parlor, but I think the temptation to let the word “bingo” slip just for the heck of it might be too tempting for him.  After all, he didn’t have the self-control or good sense to avoid a place like a bingo parlor full of grannies in the first place and then make matters worse by shouting something sure to set off a riot.  Why do you think they had the police officer there in the first place?

All of this got me thinking about what other words might not be permitted and could lead to a similar sentence in the future.

To put all of this in context, one has to go back to a Supreme Court case called Schenk v. United States.   It was there that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes made clear that the right of Free Speech is not absolute. He used the example of “shouting fire in a crowded theater” as an example of the type of speech that could land you in the pokey.  Ever heard the phrase “clear and present danger?”  Believe it or not, Tom Clancy didn’t invent that.  It comes right out of the Schenk case.

To clarify, you can’t scream something that might incite panic.  Hollering “bomb” as a “joke” in the TSA security line would be incredibly stupid.  Actually, even using the word is ill advised, although for different reasons.  That act would likely earn you a strip search. Clearly, you wouldn’t get the last laugh on that one.

These examples are fairly obvious.  Yelling “bingo” at a bingo parlor is a little tougher call because it raises so many questions.  For example, can someone holler “shark” at the beach just to see the crowds’ reaction?  My guess is “no.”  As a matter of fact, on that one, you’d probably be looking at a little tougher sentence than avoiding the beach and refraining from discussing marine life for six months.

Here’s another example.  What if you claimed to have the flu and start coughing on an airplane?  Could the flight attendant order passengers to restrain you until landing?

We have a nudist beach here in Austin called Hippie Hollow (which by the way I’ve never been to—I only vaguely know where it is).  What if you decided to go over there for grins and just whip out a camera?  Would that be enough to land you in the slammer?

It’s interesting to contemplate where all this could go after the “bingo case.”

One thing I’m certain about is that Austin Whaley should count his blessings that he stood before such a lenient judge.

He could have made him face all those angry old ladies. Then again, probably not.

That certainly would violate Austin’s Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

I know.  My late grandmother played bingo and one thing was certain, you never ever got between her and her bingo or the seafood spread on a cruise ship.



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