The First Amendment protects most forms of speech in Pennsylvania from government censorship or punishment. The right to publicly state one’s opinion without fear of criminal charges is widely seen as a necessary cornerstone of a democratic society. However, statutes and case law over the more than 200 years since the Bill of Rights was ratified have established some exceptions to this right.
For example, most readers have likely heard the famous example that the First Amendment does not allow people to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. The principle behind this sort of exception is that peoples’ right to be safe from harm — for instance, in a panicked stampede in a theater — outweighs the right to utter the words that caused that injury.
That, however, does not seem to be the impetus behind the prosecution of an 18-year-old man who falsely yelled “bingo” at a bingo hall in February. He was charged with disorderly conduct after the incident, which caused consternation among the real players, according to the police officer who issued the citation.
The officer was working as a security guard at the bingo hall. The defendant and his friends entered the hall and the defendant called out “bingo.” After a few moments of confusion, the players “started hooting and hollering and yelling and cussing” in the officer’s words. “People take their bingo very seriously.” The officer also claimed that the defendant did not show the proper remorse for his stunt.
Perhaps recognizing that, despite the prosecution’s aggressive pursuit of criminal charges, little real harm was done, the judge sentenced the defendant to six months of not saying the word “bingo.” If he does not have any other legal run-ins that time, the charge will be dismissed. The man could have faced up to 90 days in jail and a $250 fine on disorderly conduct charge.
Source: Cincinnati.com, “Bogus ‘bingo’ earns no jail time,” Cindy Schroeder, March 19, 2013