The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that Austin Whaley was found guilty of disorderly conduct for going into a bingo hall and shouting “bingo” as a hoax. “This caused the hall to quit operating since they thought someone had won,” a police officer who was moonlighting as a security guard at the bingo hall at the time. “This delayed the game by several minutes and caused alarm to patrons.”
I’m inclined to say that this is right — interrupting an event can indeed constitute disorderly conduct, if it causes substantial disruption, as falsely yelling “bingo” would do. (The Alvarez case, which held that some knowing lies about specific facts are constitutionally protected, might make the matter more complicated, but I’m inclined to say that applying disorderly conduct law to these sorts of disruptive lies would likely be permissible even under the Alvarez concurrence, which is likely to be seen as the controlling opinion.)
But the odd twist here is that, according to news accounts, the judge ordered Whaley “not to say the word ‘bingo’ for six months.” If the accounts are right, that order is likely to violate the First Amendment.
To be sure, the government has much more power to restrict the speech of people who are under sentence for a crime, whether they’re in jail or on parole or probation. But the restriction still has to be sufficiently related to a legitimate penological purpose, and a flat ban on all use of the word seems so far removed from any interest in rehabilitation, crime prevention, or punishment as to be a First Amendment violation. (Yes, I realize that the ban would prohibit a recurrence of this very sort of misconduct, but it seem vastly overbroad relative to that goal, even more so than the condition invalidated in this earlier case.)