We all remember Schenck v. United States, the 1919 decision written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes that established the “clear and present danger” test and coined the oft-misquoted line “free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

Eloquent and well-reasoned.

You know what Oliver Wendell Holmes didn’t say? “Free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting ‘BINGO!’ in a seniors home.”

But one judge has gone that far…

Down in Kentucky, Kenton District Judge Douglas Grothaus sentenced 18-year-old Austin Whaley to refrain from using the word “Bingo” for the next six months. If Whaley complies, the misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct against him will be dismissed.

Shouting “Bingo” when you don’t have it — maybe not funny, but dangerous? Yes, according to law enforcement:

“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.

Um… no, not at all. I’m not just pointing out that Bingo is not on the same playing field as yelling “fire”; this decision shows no understanding of how Bingo even works.

“This caused the hall to quit operating since they thought someone had won,” Webster wrote on his citation. “This delayed the game by several minutes and caused alarm to patrons.”

OK, I’ll admit it… I’ve played Bingo before. And if someone yells a false Bingo, everyone stops while we wait for the Bingo caller to run to the front to check their card against the official results. No one tosses their card, it’s just limbo. And then we ALL GO ON. It may be slightly annoying, but it’s nothing like creating a human stampede by yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.

The judge also compared it to “falsely calling out at a ball game.” Yeah, that’s something else that’s totally legal. Perhaps the Reds have sucked long enough that Judge Grothaus hasn’t felt the need to attend a game, but people yell “out” all the time (especially at Reds games) and no one bats (get it?) an eye.

The most troubling aspect of this headline is the implied surprise that jail time wasn’t called for. The arresting officer, Sergeant Webster, claimed that he would have sent Whaley on his way with a warning if Whaley had just apologized. But maybe Whaley didn’t apologize because he didn’t do anything wrong (other than give a moment of excitement to a bunch of elderly people).

“He was remorseful in court,” [Judge] Grothaus said. “He was obviously a good kid who hadn’t been in trouble before. With all the other things that happen in the court system and the families you’re dealing with, you’ve got to keep a sense of humor.”

I wonder if I’ll get busted for yelling “new episodes of NCIS!” in a crowded home!

Bogus ‘Bingo’ Earns No Jail Time [Cincinnati.com]


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