Justification for Silly Laws

We’ve all seen/heard/read about those “Silly Laws” from time to time. You know what I mean-- that it’s illegal for unmarried women to parachute on Sunday in Miami; that it’s illegal to fall asleep with your shoes on in Kalispell, Montana; etc.

What concerns me is that each of those weird laws had to have someone who thought that the law was a good idea, that there was sufficient justification for it, and managed to convince his peers in the city/state/county legislature to pass it.

For example: It’s illegal to hunt for whales on Sunday in Ohio*. Realizing that this is obviously one of those archaic “Blue Laws” that are so prominent on “Silly Laws” lists, there are still other matters to consider. Mainly, that Ohio is nowhere near the ocean, and that whales are not idigenous to Lake Erie. BUT, someone in Ohio’s legislature had some reason to figure that this was a good idea, and got the law passed.

So, long-story-short: can anyone give me an instance where a lawmaker gave his/her reasons for introducing/passing a ridiculous law? Or provide the extenuating circumstances that produced a weird law?

*[sub]I don’t have a cite; I heard this assertion on a radio commercial.[/sub]

I always understood those laws to be there because someone didn’t like another law so they amended something stupid to the end of it in hopes that it wouldn’t pass.

You know something like, a new law says, we are not going to allow people to buy licquor on Sundays. Well a couple of people think that’s stupidso they amend the law to say, We will not allow people to hunt wales on Sunday as well.

Then if enough people don’t care about whale hunting on Sunday they pass the law anyway. That was always my understanding of it, but I can’t remember where I heard it at.

Nobody passed a law outlawing the hunting of blue whales on Sunday. If any law exists or existed, it simply outlawed hunting on Sunday, though it probably isn’t even that prohibitive. Anyway, some jackass takes this basic principle, then makes up sonme ridiculous application of the law, and viola another damn entry is greated for the silly law glurge file.

This has been discussed before. The basic idea is that no, there is no specific law on the books that says “it’s illegal to run to the courthouse naked on the third Tuesday of each month” or something. Rather, this is true by extension - in other words, public nudity is illegal, thereby every subset of this activity is also illegal. Someone just decided to be cute and add specifics.

In many cases, the “laws” may just be completely made up, much like some of the “facts” in the “amazing facts” lists. That’s the great thing about people being gullible.

Oh, and maybe hunting itself is illegal in Ohio on Sunday, or something like that.

Nevertheless, there are some silly laws on the books. Years ago, when there was a campaign to rescind Missouri’s blue laws so that retail stores could be open on Sunday, it was pointed out that it was legal to buy Playboy magazine on Sunday, but not to buy a Bible. Go figure.

As far as there being some rational, intelligent basis for such statutes, it escapes me.

minty and ski got it right. One example I heard was “all bars in City X must have a pot of soup on a stove in the back in order to operate.” In actuality there is a law that says that it is illegal for an esablishment to exclusively sell liquor that can be consumed on the premises but a restaurant can sell liquor. A few clever bar owners always have soup that can be served (but no one ever orders it) so that they can be classified as a restaurant.


Regarding your comment, hijario, there is a major issue in Atlanta at present because of Georgia’s blue laws prohibiting bars from being open on Sunday but permitting restaurants to. However, there are teeth in this one – in order to be a “restaurant with attached bar” rather than a Sundays-prohibited bar, you must be able to prove that over 50% of your income on Sunday was from the sale of food rather than alcohol.

Well, in that case it was probably that retail stores were closed, so you couldn’t buy books, but the law said you could buy periodicals on Sunday (gotta get the sunday paper)

A lot of laws are “dust bunnies” – just plain archaic or obsolete, and not applicable to 20th/21st century living. They sound silly to us, but generations ago, they addressed a legitimate concern.

The municipal code for the small town where I work includes:

10-1 Animals on sidewalks. It shall be unlawful for any person to hitch, ride or allow any horse, mule, ass or other animal to stand on any sidewalk within the corporate limits of the town.

It should have been repealed 80 years ago, but the city fathers just never got around to it.

50-5 Disturbing the peace. It shall be unlawful for any person within the corporate limits of the town wo willfully disturb the peace of others by repeating or uttering slander, scandal, malicious gossip or rumour, calculated to provoke a breach of the peace.

“It’s illegal to gossip in town” is the interpretation. Read the law carefully, though, and it seems to make sense – if there’s a war going on.
50-20 Vagrants. The following shall be deemed vagrants.
(4) Common pipers and fiddlers.
(13) Persons neglecting all lawful businesses and habitually spending all their time by frequenting hosues of ill fame, gaming houses and tippling shops.
(14) Persons able to work but habitually living upon the livings of their wives or minor children.

I don’t know what’s wrong with fiddling, but apparently it was a real problem in the 1880s, when the law was written. Laws about video arcades that flooded municipal codes in the early 1980s will sound just as quaint to those in 2100.

The City of Buffalo has a ton of archaic laws still on the books. Lemme’ see …

*§ 98-8. Sunday hours. No person shall conduct a bootblack stand or engage in work as a bootblack within the city, for hire or gain, or permit or require any of his employees to engage in such work after 1:00 p.m. on any Sunday afternoon. This section, however, shall not apply to persons engaged in or employed by the management of bona fide hotels.

§ 158-13. Quarantine; posting. It shall be the duty of the Health Department to put up and maintain in a conspicuous place at the front entrance of any building, and also at any other entrance thereof, in which there shall be any person sick or infected with smallpox, varioloid, scarlet fever or diphtheria (or croup in any form) a card or sign on which shall be written or printed in English and German, Italian or Polish the words designating the infectious disease with which such sick person is affected and to keep the same so posted during all the time when such sick or infected person shall remain in said building. In any cases mentioned in this section, it shall be unlawful to remove or cause to be removed any such placard or notification of warning so placed by the Health Department; and in cases of diphtheria, such placard shall not be removed until bacteriological examinations shall have shown that no further danger from contagion exists; and no person shall, without the permission of the Health Commissioner, remove any such sign or placard so placed on any building. In case any such sign shall have been removed, either by accident or design, it shall be the duty of the person or persons occupying said building to notify the Department of Health thereof forthwith.

§ 352-1. Speed at public street crossings. It shall not be lawful for any steam railroad to propel any engine or cars across any public street at grade in the City of Buffalo at a greater rate of speed than six (6) miles per hour.

§ 378-5 D.Every corporation, proprietor or other person owning, operating or controlling any store, factory, theater or other building or room which is used in common by the public or any depot or railroad station shall provide a sufficient number of nonabsorbent receptacles for expectoration and shall provide for the thorough cleansing and disinfection thereof at least once in twenty-four (24) hours.

§ 378-6. Wrapping required. No person, firm or corporation conducting a place of business in the City of Buffalo where any person is served with a beverage of any kind for consumption upon said premises shall serve or allow or permit to be served to any person drinking straws which are not completely enclosed in a wrapper.

§ 501-3. Standard ton. The legal standard ton of coal in the City of Buffalo shall be two thousand (2,000) pounds. *

[snooty voice] Fortunately, I’m not at all common, so this law won’t affect me. [/snooty voice]

Incidentally, there are no laws related to whales or whaling in the Ohio Revised Code or Ohio Administrative Code. This is not to say that it didn’t ever exist, but it is no longer on the books.

Generally, the laws listed in various lists of silly laws either don’t exist or are, like ski said, a really weird special case of a broader law. There are some silly laws out there, but not nearly as many as show up in the lists that get passed around. I’d be much more impressed with sites like ‘dumblaws’ if they included cites of the applicible laws and didn’t include laws that were repealed five or more years ago.