Dumb laws

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Dumb laws, also weird, strange, or unnecessary laws, are laws that are perceived to be useless, no longer applicable (in regards to current culture or modern law), or humorous. There are relatively few real "dumb laws" on the books, but a large number of hoax or exaggerated dumb laws are circulated on the internet and in the print media.[1] Common characteristics of these laws are prohibitions against seemingly benign behaviors (for example it is claimed that in California "bathhouses are against the law" [2]) or prohibitions against acts that one is realistically unlikely to carry out (such as an Arizona law prohibiting hunting camels, while camels are not native to North America[3]). However, a closer examination may reveal a sensible reason for such laws: California only bans bathhouses that encourage sex, in order to prevent the spread of AIDS;[4] and the Arizona law was designed to deal with aftereffects of the United States Camel Corps, an army experiment to use camels as a military animal in the desert southwest of the United States.[5]

Several books have been written and numerous websites exist on the internet purporting to list "dumb laws" in various jurisdictions (see "External links" section). The "dumb laws" are also often circulated via e-mail chain letters. However, two books, You May Not Tie an Alligator to a Fire Hydrant: 101 Real Dumb Laws and The Book of Strange Laws and Curious Legal Oddities, appear to have been vetted for accuracy.

There are two main reasons that references to false or inaccurate laws may persist:

1) exaggeration or misinterpretation of real provisions of law, and 2) common law cases

(1) Some of the purported "dumb laws" have no basis in reality, or are an exaggeration of real laws. For example a reasonable law about the preservation of rare cactus species [6] may be presented as humorous statement that "There is a possible 25 years in prison for cutting down a cactus.".[7] The minor phenomenon's popularity is attested to by existing websites that generate the "dumb laws" at random.[8]

(2) Reports about 'dumb' laws often originate from case rulings issued in common law countries. The reason is that the court decision on a particular case may, for example, state that a dog-owner has to pay damages to his neighbours because his dog keeps barking at night and repeatedly disrupts their sleep. When taken out of the context, the 'dumb law' appears: "Dogs may not bark after 6 PM". Since in common law systems decisions of certain courts become precedents, such ruling is formally also included in the legal system and is considered a source of law.

Local communities often express concern when their laws get cited on one of the lists on the internet, and see it as a cause to change the law.[9]


Some commonly cited examples are real, or at least have some basis in fact:

  • In Washington state, there is a law that 'a motorist with criminal intentions [must] stop at the city limits and telephone the chief of police as he is entering the town.'[11]
  • In Eureka, Nevada, it is illegal for men who have mustaches to kiss women.[12]

Conditions for holding public office[edit]

Many jurisdictions impose, or have imposed, conditions on those who may hold public office or may sit as a representative in a legislature. For example in many places there has been systematic discrimination against atheists.

Such conditions are often cited as "dumb laws" for instance:

  • It is said that in Tennessee there is a law which prohibits "duelists, preachers and atheists from being elected to public office".[13] The constitution of Tennessee does contain a provision which prohibits ministers of religion and priests from sitting in the legislature on the basis that they ought not to be diverted from their clerical function.[14] The same law prohibits atheists from holding any civil office and also prohibits anyone who fights a duel, sends a challenge for a duel or otherwise assists in duelling to be deprived of the right to hold any "office of honor or profit" in the state.

In Torcaso v. Watkins the Supreme Court of the United States held that a law against an atheists holding public office - in that case as a notary public in Maryland was unconstitutional. So, to that extent, the "dumb law" in Tennessee ought no longer to be effective.


Some laws have been revealed as hoaxes:

  • That "sorority houses are illegal since more than a certain number of single females living together constitutes a brothel" has been debunked as fake.[15]
  • That it is legal to shoot Welsh person all day on a Sunday, with a longbow in the Cathedral Close, Hereford.[16] - the Law Commission have confirmed that this is not the case.[17] In a similar manner, the myth that it is legal to shoot a Welshman in the city of Chester after midnight with a crossbow has been debunked.

Dumb laws in popular culture[edit]

In "The Seven-Beer Snitch", an episode of The Simpsons, the police seek to send more people to jail on obscure laws because Mr. Burns is annoyed that a lack of inmates are costing him and the city a lot of revenues. They arrest Homer Simpson for violation of a dumb law on the books which states that in Springfield tin cans may not be kicked more than five times, as it would constitute "illegally transporting litter." Ironically, Homer was kicking the can out of frustration for being denied employment as a guard at the very same prison he was sent to for violating the law. Chief Wiggum also mentions a law that all men must wear hats during daylight hours, but when Smithers cannot put on a hat in time, Wiggum chuckles and says "If I didn't arrest you that night in the park, I'm not going to arrest you now."

The comic character Jughead Jones has had an occasional appearance as Professor Jughead, when he presents various weird laws.

On the TV series Parks and Recreation, the show regularly mentions the many archaic, forgotten, idiotic or downright bigoted laws that the town of Pawnee has passed during its long, pathetic history. In one case, Donna Retta is furious to learn that African Americans are banned from walking on town sidewalks; in another, Leslie Knope is disgusted when the town's election monitor reminds everyone that a tie vote in a City Council election between one male and one female candidate will result in the man being awarded the seat and the woman being put in jail.


  1. ^ For example, Reynolds, Patrick; Susan Dach (1993). Donkeys Can't Sleep in Bathtubs and Other Crazy Laws. [Mahwah, N.J.]: Watermill Press. ISBN 0-89375-264-9.  among others.
  2. ^ "Dumb Laws in California. Crazy California Laws. We have blue laws, old laws, and just plain weird laws!". Dumblaws.com. 2012-08-29. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  3. ^ "Dumb Laws in Arizona. Crazy Arizona Laws. We have blue laws, old laws, and just plain weird laws!". Dumblaws.com. 2012-08-29. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  4. ^ "WAIS Document Retrieval". Leginfo.ca.gov. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  5. ^ Motor Transport Corps
  6. ^ "3-906 - Collection and salvage of protected plants; procedures, permits, tags and seals; duration; exception". Azleg.state.az.us. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  7. ^ "Dumb Laws in Arizona. Crazy Arizona Laws. We have blue laws, old laws, and just plain weird laws!". Dumblaws.com. 2012-08-29. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  8. ^ "Program generating random "dumb laws"". Nonsense.sourceforge.net. 2001-02-25. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  9. ^ Article In the Columbian newspaper[dead link]
  10. ^ "Chapter 74, Article I, Sec. 74-2". Library.municode.com. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  11. ^ Capella (2006). "Laughable Laws". Fascinating Facts & Curious Questions. Incredible. p. 41. ISBN 1-84193-495-X. 
  12. ^ http://facts.randomhistory.com/crazy-laws.html
  13. ^ Samantha Weaver (28 February 2013). "Strange But True". Dallas Post. Retrieved 15 August 2013. 
  14. ^ "Tennessee Constitution - Article Ix. Disqualifications". Tncrimlaw.com. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  15. ^ "Urban Legends Reference Pages: Brothel Laws Ban Sorority". Snopes.com. Retrieved 2012-09-03. 
  16. ^ "Where mince pies break the law...". BBC. 23 December 2006. 
  17. ^ Legal Oddities, Law Commission

External links[edit]