The U.S.A is known worldwide for its wide array of sometimes ludicrous laws that somehow slipped through the cracks of time. The history of the country’s legal system is a complex and rich one. As a result of various enduring battles for power in the U.S.A., numerous ridiculous and frequently entirely inconsequential laws have entered the books in many states. A possible reason for the magnitude of strange laws in America is the predisposition of local election candidates to introduce niche laws in order to curry favour with the population of a town or city. This process has been going on for over two hundred years, which explains the abundance of oddly specific laws; some of America’s city, community and state laws date back to the 1800s and still remain on the books, through a clerical oversight in most cases.
Some of these odd state and federal laws of the U.S.A. are entirely outdated and are not actively adhered to; these are generally especially ludicrous ones, such as the law in Iowa that a one-armed piano player must play his instrument for free, or that beavers in Michigan could be fined up to $10,000 a day for building an unlicensed dam — it does not seem too great a stretch of the imagination to assume that these two laws were introduced around very specific instances that are unlikely to occur again. However, there are plenty of similarly crazy state-specific laws still on the books in America. Here, we’re taking a look at 10 of the oddest of these, and some of the reasons behind them.
10. In Alabama, it is illegal to play dominoes on a Sunday
Although it is unclear whether or not dominoes specifically are problematic, the fact remains that in Arizona it is illegal to engage in “gaming [or] card playing” of a Sunday. Presumably this is because Sunday is the Lord’s day, and should therefore be kept labour- and enjoyment-free. Playing dominoes in Alabama on this day could result in a fine “not less than $10.00 nor more than $100.00”, which may possibly be worth the risk, depending on how much of a hardcore game fan you are.
9. In Connecticut, it is illegal to walk backwards after sunset
In Devon, Connecticut, it is bizarrely illegal to walk backwards after the sun has set. There is no discernible reason for this, nor are the origins of the law in question clear, so the mind boggles as to the imposition of the rule. Perhaps walking backwards was so widely practised at one time that outlawing it was necessary in order to combat an epidemic, or perhaps Devon has very uneven roads that could potentially be quite dangerous in the dark…?
8. In Kentucky, it is illegal to marry the same man four times
It seems that the phrase “third time’s a charm” carries a lot of weight in Kentucky. It is illegal to marry the same man four times in the state, which of all laws on this list seems the least arbitrary and obscure; if you’ve divorced the same person three times clearly something’s not working, and it’s probably just as well that the law steps in.
7. In North Carolina, it is illegal to wear masks in public
In North Carolina, any person over the age of sixteen is forbidden from wearing any sort of mask, hood, or face- or voice-concealing apparatus on public ways or in public areas. This law was apparently created in order to attempt to combat the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, the extremist white supremacy group which is prevalent in the state of California. These days though, if it’s enforced, all it’s likely to do is needlessly restrict the Halloween costume choices among adults!
6. In Arizona, it is (technically) illegal for women to wear pants
A very outdated law states that it is illegal for women to wear pants in Tucson, Arizona. This is in no way enforced today, and women in the state are unlikely to run into any trouble as a result of wearing a pair of jeans; nevertheless, the law remains an official legal stipulation and a sign of certain less progressive times.
5. In Florida, all smart phones and computers are banned
In a strikingly ridiculous move, the state of Florida recently passed a poorly-phrased bill in an attempt to outlaw Internet cafés, the wording of which in fact outlawed the use of all smart phones and computers in the state. After an Internet gambling scandal, a hasty attempt to shut down all Internet cafés and slot machines in operation in Florida ended up stipulating that any “system or network of devices” that could be used in a game of chance were illegal, thus inadvertently including any device that allows access to the Internet. This aspect of the law is widely disregarded across the state, chalked up to the result of an indiscretion.
4. In New York, it is possible to be fined for flirting
An antiquated law in New York states that anyone found to be flirting within the state stands to be fined twenty-five dollars for their audacity. This law is thought to have originally come about with a view to specifically prohibiting men leering at women in the city’s streets. A second conviction for a previous offender means that they can be forced to wear a “pair of horse-blinders” any time he appears in public.
3. In Tennessee, it is illegal to catch a fish using a lasso
Although this one is dubious in that it does not actually specifically ban the use of a lasso, this law in Tennessee nevertheless states that fishing may be undertaken with rods and reels, hooks and lines, or a trotline. The use of all other instruments are “expressly forbidden”, so while it is in fact true that it is illegal to catch a fish using a lasso, it is equally illegal to catch one using a brick, or a stepladder.
2. In Texas, criminals must give warning of their crime 24 hours in advance
Standing as a strong contender for the most ridiculous law ever, a recently passed motion in Texas says that criminals in the state must give their victim twenty-four hours notice, either orally or in writing, before any given crime is committed. The criminal is also obliged by law to specify to the victim the type of crime that is to be committed. Hmm. Whoever thought that they could successfully impose legal limitations on an illegal activity must have forgotten how crime works.
1. In Utah, it is illegal to cause a catastrophe
Utah is not a state for the thrill seeker, nor the best place to choose to shoot an action movie; a law in the state says that it is illegal to cause “a catastrophe”. A catastrophe is defined as causing widespread damage or injury to persons or property “by explosion, fire, flood, avalanche, collapse of a building, release of poison gas, radioactive material, or other harmful or destructive force or substance, or by any other means”. It seems unlikely that there are any other means actually left, but the law certainly covers all its bases. Breaking this law intentionally is classed as a felony of the second degree, and if the law is broken accidentally it is deemed a class A misdemeanor.