No, there is no law saying you can’t crack a joke at the TSA checkpoint

Henrymaxm
Legal scholar Jonathan Turley has written about this more than once.

It is simply false to claim that someone is violating a law if he/she makes a joke — about bombs or anything else — at the airport security checkpoint. I repeat: it’s false.

There is no law prohibiting you from cracking a joke. In fact, there’s something called the First Amendment that you may have heard of. It prohibits the government from infringing on your right to freedom of speech.

Of course, that doesn’t stop the blue-shirted crusaders from telling you you’re breaking the law, or from calling the cops, who should know better but who usually side with the thuglets, as they did in the recent case of Frank Hannibal. Which is why Hannibal is suing and will almost surely win — if his case ever even goes to court, which it probably won’t because the TSA and the cops will settle because they know they’re wrong.

But here we go again with those pesky facts:

Across the country, travelers are greeted with signs and announcements at airports warning them not to make jokes about bombs or weapons. It has become commonly known that making such jokes is a federal offense. It isn’t. There is no Comic Relief Act that makes joking a violation of the U.S. Code. It is an urban legend intentionally created by threatening arrests and twisting existing laws. Even actual prosecutions are rare. In the meantime, there is not a single case of a terrorist warming up his victims with a lead-in joke.

Turley agrees that Hannibal is in the right. But he acknowledges that the whole point of this illegal arrest and imprisonment of citizens is to get them to toe the line — which, given the willful ignorance and complicity of so much of the population, isn’t too hard:

Despite the lack of legal foundation and the violation of free speech protections, airport security continue to warn citizens that they can be arrested for jokes. Even absurd and abusive arrests like Hannibal’s do not result in discipline — a strong message to agents that the government wants to create this chilling effect by harassing and detaining citizens.

(Photo: harrymaxm/Flick Creative Commons)

  • FulanoZutano

    I read this and I have to ask – is it not against the law for the TSA to misrepresent the law? Can they not be taken to court for this, especially if the lie is posted in public? Or would the TSA simply claim that jokes about security are not jokes and constitute a security threats?

    • Susan Richart

      TSA misrepresents the law every single day and puts itself above the law. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot we can do about it.

    • RonBonner

      Apparently not, TSA screeners seem ready to tell people that photography at TSA checkpoints is illegal and nothing is done to them.

  • Bob

    If i say “TSA” at a checkpoint isn’t that a joke? Ba-Da-Boom!

  • RonBonner

    TSA seems to make law. Noticed on the TSA prohibited items list is a new entry, medical marijuna. I can’t figure how TSA can ban this since it poses no threat to airplanes or passenger safety.

  • http://twitter.com/litbrit Deborah N. Tornello

    Thank God for people like Jonathan Turley. His is a rare, calm voice of reason and logic amid the earsplitting cacophony of terrified (and, ironically, terrorized) cowards that surround us these days.