For those who don’t quite know the basics about the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, here is a quick refresher course.
The First Amendment covers the rights of freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom to practice their religion, freedom to assemble peacefully, and to give petition to our government regarding the redress of grievances for every American citizen. While these freedoms might seem cut and dry, they are open for interpretation by individuals, government officials, and civil and criminal courts.
When it comes to freedom of speech, how much is too much? Should someone be allowed to yell “fire” in a crowded room and watch as mayhem and physical violence ensues? Should they be held accountable for the damage and pain they caused? Does this infringe on their First Amendment rights?
What about when an 18 year old Kentucky resident walks into a local Bingo parlor and yells, “BINGO!”? Should he be held accountable for the confusion and disturbance he causes? Well, that is the question many are asking about an actual case.
Austin Whaley decided one day to walk into a Bingo parlor and yell, “Bingo!” No, he hadn’t even been playing so when his deception was discovered, you can imagine the anger. Whaley was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Despite his actions (or in spite of his actions), Whaley wasn’t officially charged and was allowed to leave the jail without repercussions other than a restriction to not speak the word, Bingo, for 6 months.
Here’s where it gets tricky: should Mr. Austin Whaley be charged for disruptive and disorderly conduct for his actions, or were his actions covered under his right to free speech? Just like in the illustration with the person who yelled, “fire”, Whaley’s actions caused a commotion, but did his actions cause violence, property damage, and physical harm? Not really. There was a room full of severely annoyed elderly Bingo players, but Whaley’s intent wasn’t to cause violence or harm, unlike the person who yelled, “fire” in the crowded room.
So, the question arises; should Austin Whaley be punished or would his First Amendment rights be infringed upon?
Why not discuss this with us! What do you think? Should Austin Whaley be charged and punished for his actions, or should he be allowed to walk freely because of his rights to free speech? Let us know what you think!
Here’s to hoping that Mr. Whaley has learned his lesson.