Defining Free Speech

feldman_amy Amy Feldman
Amy E. Feldman is a business commentator and legal business...
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By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Do you have the free speech right to shout bingo in a crowded bingo parlor?

Eighteen-year-old Austin Whaley stopped into a Kentucky bingo parlor and falsely shouted “BINGO!” causing pandemonium among the mostly elderly patrons. After he refused to apologize, he was arrested for disorderly conduct. As punishment, he received no jail time but was ordered not to utter the word bingo for six months, which makes those of us who love the Constitution (if not the game of Bingo) wonder: is that a violation of his right to free speech? Um, yeah.

To be clear, you don’t have the right to say whatever you want, whenever you want to. You can’t falsely shout fire in a crowded theatre because it will cause a panic. You can’t use words that create a clear and present danger of immanent violence.

Now it is clear that no one should ever get between a blue haired lady and her chance at a Bingo win. But did falsely shouting bingo create a clear and present danger of immanent violence? Unlikely. But to teach him a lesson on respect, a better punishment might have been to make him sit there and actually play the game with the elderly patrons as a community service.

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