The City of Grand Rapids says it’s now OK to annoy thy neighbor. A section of the city code stating that “no person shall willfully annoy another person,” is set to be struck from the books after 38 years next Tuesday, and it's about time, says the city attorney.
Next week, a commission is expected to give its final approval to repeal the rule after city attorney Catherine Mish requested its removal, saying the rule's vague language was archaic and “unconstitutional,” as well as “simply unenforceable.”
"An ordinance is vague if a person of ordinary intelligence can't differ its meaning," Mish told ABC News, "and annoyance is in the eye of the beholder."
Across the country, dusty law books are filled with hundreds, potentially thousands of peculiar and outdated rules, said Illinois-based lawyer Brian Peterson. While the Internet has spread its fair share of false laws -- such as the rumor that it’s illegal to wear fake mustaches in Alabama churches -- there is no shortage of antiquated rules currently in effect.
Peterson, a litigation and estate planning lawyer, has previously written a blog on odd state and city ordinances, his interest sparked by an email he received three years ago containing both real and fake ones. He gave ABC News five stranger-than-fiction laws he’s come across in the books, though never in real life. The rest we dug up from city and state codes across the country.
|Alabama: Illegal to wrestle a bear|
In Alabama, it’s a Class B felony to knowingly exploit a bear, which is bad news for anyone who “knowingly promotes, engages in, or is employed at a bear wrestling match.” The penalty for breaking Ala. Code 13A-12-5 is two years in prison or a $30,000 fine.
|Alabama: No card games on Sunday|
In Alabama, a friendly game of Rummy on Sunday is not as innocent as it sounds. Code 3A-12-1 states anyone “who engages in ... gaming or card playing on [Sunday] ... shall be fined not less than $10, nor more than $100, and may also be imprisoned in the county jail, or sentenced to hard labor for the county, for not more than three months.”
|Kentucky: Pets can’t molest cars|
In Fort Thomas, Ky., it’s up to owners to keep their pets from “molesting passing vehicles.” Any person found guilty of violating Code 0-5-2001 could face a fine between $50 and $100.
|Tennessee: Illegal to take skunks across city limits|
Travelling to Tennessee? It’s probably best not to pack your pet skunk. Tennessee Code 70-4-208 states that “it is unlawful for any person to import, possess or cause to be imported into this state any type of live skunk.” Obey this rule, or risk spending 30 days in jail or a $50 fine.
|South Carolina: Illegal to catch fish with a yoyo|
This one is slightly misleading, Peterson said. Though South Carolina Code 50-13-1190 states “it shall be unlawful to use yoyos ... in the freshwaters of this State,” it is not referring to the favorite childhood toy, but rather a “device to which ‘set hooks’ are attached which is activated by spring-like devices.”
The law has since been repealed and reworded, but remains a good example of “how some laws can be misinterpreted and how myths about some laws originate,” Peterson said.
|Florida: No pet elephants|
After Peterson finished his list, ABC News went on the hunt to find other wacky city rules such as the city code in Coral Gables, Fla., that bans residents from keeping pet elephants.
Coral Gables City Attorney Craig Leen confirmed that Section 4-414 of the code concerning wild animals is still in effect.
“It is illegal to keep an elephant without a permit as well as a 'presumption against granting a permit,'" Leen said. Having lizards over eight feet long or owning any type of ape is also prohibited.
|Arkansas: No sounding horns outside sandwich shops at night|
In an effort to keep the peace, Little Rock, Ark. officials decided to implement Code 1961, (25-74) whereby “No person shall sound the horn on a vehicle at any place where cold drinks or sandwiches are served after 9:00 p.m.”
|Tennessee: You must believe in God to run for public office|
If you’re an atheist who has engaged in a duel lately, don’t even think about running for public office in Tennessee. Page 550, Article IX, section 2 of the Tennessee constitution 2011-2012 states “No person who denies the being of God ... shall hold any office in the civil department of this state,” while section 3 says “Any person who shall, after the adoption of this Constitution, fight a duel ... shall be deprived of the right to hold any office.”
|West Virginia: No taunting someone for not accepting a duel|
Meanwhile in West Virginia, it was once illegal to taunt someone for not accepting a challenge to a duel. The code (61-2-24) meant that anyone could be jailed for six months or fined up to $100 for calling someone a chicken if they didn’t duel, but the code has since been repealed.
|New York: Illegal to put on puppet show from your window|
New Yorkers take note: if you’re putting on a puppet show, make sure you close the blinds. Anyone exhibiting a “performance of puppet or other figures, ballet or other dancing, comedy, farce, show with moving figures, play or other entertainment” in free public view could be fined $25 or spend 30 days in prison, or both.
|New York: No dancing without a license|
It seems New York City officials don’t want you to have any fun. First they banned puppet shows, and now it seems that dancing is not permitted in any establishment “wherein food or drink is directly or indirectly sold,” unless you have a cabaret license (Administrative Code 20-2-20.)
Do you know of any other antiquated codes in your city or state? Add it to the comments below!