Austin Whaley, an 18-year-old from Covington, Kentucky, learned this the hard way when he and several friends entered a local bingo hall and yelled “bingo” for comic effect. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “the crowd of mostly elderly women did not take kindly to Whaley’s bingo call.” The room filled with groans from those who’d thought they lost; upon realizing they’d been duped, “they started hooting and hollering and yelling and cussing.”
Park Hills Police Sgt. Richard Webster reported that Whaley’s antics “delayed the game by several minutes” and “caused alarm to patrons.” When Whaley refused to apologize after being caught, Webster cited him for second-degree disorderly conduct.
“Just like you can’t run into a theater and yell ‘fire’ when it’s not on fire, you can’t run into a crowded bingo hall and yell ‘bingo’ when there isn’t one,” said Park Hills Police Sgt. Richard Webster, the officer who cited Whaley. [...]
“He seemed to think he could say whatever he wanted because it was a public building. I tried to explain that that’s not the case. Just because it’s a public building doesn’t give you the right to run into a theater and yell ‘fire.’ You can’t go into a ballpark and yell ‘out,’ because people could stop the game.”
When Whaley appeared in Kenton District Court last week, the judge ordered Whaley: “Do not say the word ‘bingo’ for six months.”
As comical as it may be, sentencing someone to not utter the word “bingo” is likely a violation of the First Amendment.
The 1919 Supreme Court case Schenck v. U.S. introduced the “clear and present danger” test, which allows punishment for speech that would knowingly cause a panic, such as shouting “fire” in a crowded theater (this test has also been largely superseded by more speech-protective decisions). But yelling “bingo” in a bingo hall hardly lives up to the standard. Nobody flees for their life when they think they’ve lost the whimsical game of chance.
Bingo players may consider Whaley a jerk, but even jerks have constitutional rights.