The United States prides itself on being a nation of laws, and it is almost universally accepted that laws are essential to provide structure, order, security, and safety for society.
Most legislation on the books is based on precedent, logic, and common sense. However, some measures are head-scratchers and beg the question as to how they became laws in the first place and why they haven’t been repealed.
24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of some of the more preposterous, illogical laws around the country, reviewing multiple legal and general interest sources that have cited loopy legislation that remains in force to the best of our knowledge.
The origins of many of these laws are a mystery. A number of them involve animals. Though they may sound silly when read – do we really need a law to stop us from tossing a live moose out of a plane? – many were obviously passed with the best of intentions to protect our non-human friends. For instance, public-spirited citizens in Arizona saved a donkey from drowning after it fell asleep in an abandoned bathtub, and then passed a law in the hopes of keeping that from ever happening again. (These are the official pets and animals of every state.)
Some of the legislation has been used to control women. In Michigan, wives aren’t allowed to cut their hair without their husband’s permission. In California, they’re banned from driving while wearing a housecoat.
Other laws govern the consumption of alcohol, which might have roots in America’s temperance legacy. Profanity, meanwhile, is forbidden at funeral homes in Georgia – and if you’re at a wake in Massachusetts, you’d better watch your sandwich intake. (You’d better be especially careful in the cities where law enforcement makes the most arrests.)
No sleeping on a refrigerator outdoors
> Where: Pennsylvania
Probably not a good idea to sleep inside the refrigerator either, even if you prop the door open.
No bingo games lasting more than five hours
> Where: North Carolina
Bingo games, a staple for raising funds for houses of worship, are limited to five hours in the state, according to North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement. Bingo games at the state fair are an exception.
No bicycles allowed on tennis courts
> Where: Idaho
The law in Idaho also stipulates that bikes are banned from park benches and gazebos.
No opening of umbrellas on the street
> Where: Alabama (Mobile)
Like other laws on the list, this one sounds silly. But in an era when horses were the main source of transportation, umbrellas were one of the objects that could spook them.
Married women cannot fish alone on Sundays; unmarried women can’t fish alone at any time
> Where: Montana
Like so many laws on this list, this would be a tough one to enforce – and it will surely be challenged by women’s rights groups and other activists, if it hasn’t been already.
Any marriage in which one of the parties is an idiot or a lunatic is null and void
> Where: Rhode Island
This law comes under the heading of obsolete laws that need to be scrapped – though in divorce proceedings, both parties may well accuse the other of being an idiot or a lunatic. Or both.
No selling beer unless there’s a kettle of soup brewing
> Where: Nebraska
You’d probably want something to eat with your suds anyway, right?.
No stepping repeatedly on the cracks between paving stones on the sidewalk of a state highway
> Where: Utah
Forget about stepping on a crack and breaking your mother’s back. Doing it along a state highway is actually a felony in the Beehive State.
No selling your eyes or other organs
> Where: Texas
If you’re considering earning a little cash by selling your eyes or any other organ in the Lone Star State, the eyes of Texas are upon you. The offense can get you a year in jail and/or fines of up to $4,000.
No pushing a live moose out of a plane
> Where: Alaska
Alaska has several laws covering humans’ relationship with moose. This law stipulates that it is illegal to push a live moose out of a plane. It doesn’t say you can’t offload a dead one.
No hiding a coin behind your ear
> Where: Hawaii
This law has a historical reference: After the United States annexed Hawaii at the end of the 19th century, the native population was ordered to destroy Hawaiian coins. People took to secreting them behind their ears to circumvent the ban.
No getting fish drunk
> Where: Ohio
Legal experts believe this law may have been passed to protect fish and other aquatic species against the dangers of fermented agricultural runoff.
A pickle is not a pickle unless it bounces
> Where: Connecticut
The standard for bouncing pickles was tested in 1948. A pair of pickle packers (say that three times fast) were arrested for selling pickles “unfit for human consumption.” Connecticut Food and Drug Commissioner Frederick Holcomb determined that a good pickle dropped from a foot should bounce. Those pickles did not, and the pickle purveyors were fined.
Women can’t cut their own hair without their husband’s permission
> Where: Michigan
Women can’t cut their own hair without their husband’s permission. This certainly sounds outdated and it might be a difficult law to enforce.
No foot-tapping, head-nodding, or other time-keeping to music in bars or restaurants
> Where: New Hampshire
In the Granite State, bars and restaurants are places where you eat and drink, not groove to the beat.
If you tie an elephant, goat, or alligator to a parking meter, you must pay for it as if it were a vehicle
> Where: Florida
Makes sense – but we’d love to watch somebody trying to parallel-park an elephant.
No stepping out of places mid-flight
> Where: Maine
This law might come under the heading of what could be more obvious.
Don’t let your donkey sleep in the bathtub
> Where: Arizona
This law was enacted in 1924. A donkey had fallen asleep in an abandoned bathtub and after a dam burst near Kingman, the flood waters carried the mule downstream. The townspeople saved the animal and then got a law passed to prevent the animals from slumbering in tubs ever again.
No sleeping in a cheese factory
> Where: South Dakota
Actually, it’s illegal to sleep in any area where food is prepared or provided in large quantities.
Chickens are not permitted to cross the road
> Where: Quitman, Georgia
No, not even to get to the other side. The law also applies to ducks, geese, “or any other domestic fowl” – none of which are permitted “to run at large upon the streets or alleys of the city.”
No eating ice cream on Sundays
> Where: Oregon
This law in Oregon also applies to sundaes. A spot check of Baskin-Robbins outlets in the Beaver State, however, suggests that the law is rarely enforced: All are open seven days a week.
No playing dominoes on Sunday
> Where: Alabama
The law is part of a broader measure to combat Sunday gambling in Alabama out of respect for those attending services at houses of worship.
No idiotic voting in New Mexico
> Where: New Mexico
New Mexico law allows the vote to United States citizens over 21 years old who have resided in New Mexico for 12 months and in their county for 90 days and currently live in the precinct where they plan to vote – the exceptions being “idiots, insane persons, and persons convicted of a felonious or infamous crime.”
No habitual kissing of others if you have a mustache
> Where: Indiana
This law might just have its origins in proper hygiene.
No falling asleep with your shoes on
> Where: North Dakota
Makes one wonder how this law would be enforced.
No cutting off peacocks in traffic
> Where: California
In Arcadia, peacocks have the right of way on any street or intersection. The birds were brought to Arcadia 100 years ago to enliven the community.
No dyeing and selling of ducklings, other fowl, or rabbits – unless you’re selling six at once (or the rabbit weighs more than three pounds)
> Where: Kentucky
The penalty for doing this is at least $100 and not more than $500.
No catching fish with a lasso
> Where: Tennessee
We’ve heard of shooting fish in a barrel, but the idea of throwing a lariat around one is mind-bending.
No walking backwards after sunset
> Where: Devon, Connecticut
This law might well have become law for safety reasons, though why it applies in only one town is unclear.
No camels allowed on highways
> Where: Nevada
This law sounds absurd today, but as Nevada was being settled in the 1800s, imported camels were used to transport goods across the vast desert. Apparently camel traffic became a problem and restrictions were enacted.
No shooting rabbits from motorboats
> Where: Kansas
When you stop to think about it, you’d have to be quite a sharpshooter to accomplish that feat anyway.
No singing in public places while wearing a bathing suit
> Where: Florida
We’d like to see officials trying to enforce this law during spring break.
No eating more than three sandwiches at a wake
> Where: Massachusetts
While we doubt that law enforcement is checking up on such events, it’s probably best to eat beforehand.
Men can’t knit during fishing season
> Where: New Jersey
From the state where it’s also against the law to delay a homing pigeon or frown at a cop (or, for that matter, to pump your own gas), of course it would be illegal for a man to knit during fishing season. The law doesn’t prevent women from doing so, however.
No swearing in front of a corpse at a funeral home
> Where: Georgia
A ban against cursing in front of the departed sounds like a measure passed to respect the dead and his or her grieving friends and family.
No flying kites within city limits
> Where: Chicago, Illinois
Chicago has plenty of parks conducive to kite-flying, but city laws prevent you from doing so.
No attending meetings in costume
> Where: North Carolina
This law was passed in the 1950s and applied to those 16 or older to help combat Ku Klux Klan activity.
No eavesdropping in Oklahoma
> Where: Oklahoma
This law was enacted in 1910 and states that “every person guilty of secretly loitering about any building, with intent to overhear discourse therein, and to repeat or publish the same to vex, annoy, or injure others, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
No keeping horses in bathtubs
> Where: South Carolina
The folks in Kingman, Arizona (see above) would doubtless concur with this law.
It is not permitted to take a lion to the movies
> Where: Maryland (Baltimore)
It’s illegal to take a lion to the movies in Baltimore. Yes, it is.
No trick-or-treating on Halloween if you’re over 12
> Where: Chesapeake, Virginia
They crack down on trick-or-treaters in Chesapeake, Virginia. It’s illegal for those over 12 years old to seek candy and treats on Halloween (and no matter how old you are, you can’t do so after 8 p.m.) Doing so is a misdemeanor that includes a fine of up to $100 and/or up to six months in jail.
No flamingoes are allowed in barber shops
> Where: Alaska
You find flamingos in more warm-temperature climes like Florida, South America, and Africa, not in the 49th State. Yet there is a law on the books up north that bans the bird’s owners from bringing their pet birds into a barbershop – just in case.
No bringing skunks into Tennessee
> Where: Tennessee
The only exceptions to this law are for zoological parks and research institutions. A violation of this law is a misdemeanor, and one that might cause a stink.
No wearing slippers in New York after 10 p.m.
> Where: New York City
This law is on the books as a way to keep odorous slippers from attracting rats. New York City police officers might have more important matters to address.
Woman cannot drive wearing a housecoat
> Where: California
There is apparently no law, however, against men driving in robes or polyester jumpsuits.
Single men must pay $1 in tax a year
> Where: Missouri
The Show Me State wants single men between the ages of 21 and 50 to show the state the money. Those men must pay a yearly tax of $1, presumably just for being single men. The law was enacted in 1821, the year Missouri became a state. A dollar then was equivalent to about $23 today.
No raising or harboring rats
> Where: Billings, Montana
Rat-lovers protest that this law is manifestly unfair, especially since it doesn’t apply to mice, gerbils, hamsters, or guinea pigs.
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