There are a lot of myths out there about absurd laws. For example, you might have heard there’s a law in Arkansas that it’s illegal to mispronounce Arkansas. That is false. Like many myths about laws, this one comes from a misinterpretation of legal documents. The Arkansas State Code defines the “correct pronunciation” and states that other pronunciations are to be “discouraged”— but mispronunciation is not against the law. Many other “weird laws” are exaggerations or pure fabrication. For this list, we’ve sifted through the myths and gathered 10 absurd laws that are backed up by the facts.
1. In 2013, Swaziland aviation authorities announced it is illegal for a witch on a broomstick to fly above 150 meters.
The announcement was made by Sabelo Dlamini, a Swazi civil aviation authority official. He made the statement when the country was introducing tighter flying laws that restrict any heavier-than-air transportation device. The new laws were made following the arrest of a private investigator who used a toy helicopter equipped with a camera to conduct surveillance. Dlamini is quoted as saying “A witch on a broomstick should not fly above the [150-meter] limit.”
The reason witches were mentioned in the announcement is that many people in Swaziland believe in witchcraft. An opinion article for New Zimbabwe pointed out, “it is not only in Swaziland that the notion of a ‘flying witch’ is taken seriously. In fact, across Africa, people strongly believe that witches fly.”(1,2)
2. In 2013, the town of Nucla, Colorado introduced a law that says every household has to have a gun.
The law is called the “Family Protection Order” and was introduced as a joke by a trustee on the town board. In early 2013, the trustee was irritated by state lawmakers discussing stricter gun control. In reaction, the trustee jokingly suggested Nucla introduce a mandatory gun law, and he was surprised when people supported it.
According to the trustee, the law isn’t really enforced, but it acts as a political statement. “This is a hunting and ranching community, and everybody already has guns,” and “it was more or less standing up for our rights as gun owners.”
Five out of six trustees on the town board supported the law. The one trustee who voted against it said it wasn’t because he doesn’t like guns, but because the law is an example of government overreach. The law includes exemptions for conscientious objectors, people with mental disabilities, and those who can’t afford a gun.(source)
3. In New Zealand, there is a law that every high school may hold one pound of uranium and one pound of thorium, for conducting nuclear experiments.
New Zealand has a strong anti-nuclear culture and strict laws regarding nuclear materials. For instance, the country has barred nuclear-powered ships from its waters under the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987.
But the country’s nuclear laws include some exemptions for research and education. A section of New Zealand’s Atomic Energy Act from 1945 states that “any school providing secondary instruction” can possess up to one pound each of uranium and thorium. In addition, universities and laboratories approved by the government can possess up to 20 pounds of each of the materials.(1,2,3)
4. It’s illegal in Queensland, Australia to own a pet rabbit unless you can prove that you’re a magician.
Australia has had serious problems with rabbit overpopulation for many years. The animals were first introduced to the country in the 18th century, and due to a lack of natural predators, there was a population explosion underway by 1867. Rabbits are currently the most destructive, introduced animal pest in the country causing agricultural and environmental havoc and costing $1 billion a year.
To protect farming areas in Queensland, they have a rabbit-proof fence that is 555 km long. It keeps rabbits out of an area of about 28,000 square km. To keep this area free of rabbits, having them as pets is strictly prohibited. The penalty can include fines of up to $44,000 and six months in prison. However, the law makes an exemption for certain forms of public entertainment such as magic shows and circuses.(1,2,3,4,5)
5. Sympathizing with North Korea or its leader Kim Jong-un is an illegal act in South Korea. Even blogging can land you in jail.
South Korea has a “National Security Law” that makes it a crime to support North Korea in any context. Last year, a 73-year old South Korean man was charged under that law. Prosecutors said he was sympathizing with Kim Jon-un’s communist kingdom. The man was accused of distributing pro-North Korea propaganda because he followed the country’s official Twitter account.
The court ruled that he wasn’t guilty of distributing propaganda since he didn’t retweet any of North Korea’s posts. However, he was sentenced to a year in jail for praising North Korea in posts he made on his personal blog years earlier.
Amnesty International condemned the “National Security Law” in a 2012 report that said: “the South Korean authorities have increasingly used vaguely worded clauses of the NSL to arbitrarily target people or organizations perceived to oppose government policies, especially on North Korea.”(1,2)
6. In France, you can marry a person who’s already dead.
The law that allows marrying a dead person was enacted in France in the 1950s. The practice dates back to WWI when the wives and girlfriends would “marry” their lovers who had been killed in action.
The law requires the living spouse to get approval from the President and Justice Minister. In order to qualify to marry a dead person, you have to provide evidence that the deceased planned to marry you while alive. For instance, in 2009, when a woman’s fiancée died in a car accident, she showed that he had previously set a rough date for the wedding at their local town hall and she had already bought a wedding gown. Her request to marry the deceased was granted.
The ceremony for marrying a dead person typically involves the bride or groom standing next to a photo of their significant other and the phrase “till death do us part” is left out of the vows. France gets hundreds of requests for posthumous marriages per year, and many of them are accepted.(1,2)
7. North Tonawanda, New York recently passed an anti-bullying law that says a parent can be sent to jail for 15 days if their child is caught bullying.
One reason this law is unusual is that parents are not normally held criminally responsible for their child’s actions. They are subject to civil liability, meaning they may have to pay for damages caused by their children. Also, most states do have laws that punish parents for creating situations where their child causes harm. For instance, a parent can be criminally charged for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor,” or allowing children to gain access to firearms.
But this new law is different because it says parents can be jailed for 15 days and fined up to $250 dollars for their child’s first offense of bullying. The law was modeled after one adopted by several Wisconsin towns in 2015. However, the Wisconsin law doesn’t carry the penalty of jail time.
Critics of the new, anti-bullying law say it is a case of “government intrusion” and will add to the problems in already troubled homes. Director of the Alberti Centre for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo said there should be more research into whether laws like this actually reduce juvenile crime. “If we’re truly looking to have youth behave in more pro-social, positive ways, I have a hard time thinking that the threat of punishing a parent or actually punishing a parent [would help].”(1,2,3)
8. Since the US Department of Transportation banned Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones from airplanes in 2016, a passenger can be criminally prosecuted if they take the phone aboard with a penalty of up to $179,933 and ten years in prison.
It’s a little strange to see the Department of Transportation say a phone is considered “a forbidden hazardous material,” and for there to be such stiff penalties for violating the ban. But the reasons for it become apparent when you consider the problems with the Galaxy Note 7.
In September 2016, Samsung recalled the Galaxy Note 7 because its lithium battery had a tendency to overheat and explode. The company offered refunds and exchanges for customers around the world and provided replacement Galaxy Note 7 phones that were supposedly safe. But by October, when a number of the replacement phones also exploded, the company completely stopped manufacturing and selling the phones.
The Department of Transportation banned the phones from planes on October 15, 2016. Passengers are prohibited from bringing the phone on board whether it’s on their person, in carry-on luggage, or in checked baggage. In addition, the phone can’t be shipped as air cargo. Even Samsung had to get a special permit from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to ship its recalled phones using ground transportation. The company sent fireproof boxes to customers so they could safely ship the phones back.
Passengers who try to bring the phone on a plane will be denied boarding, and the penalties are harsher for packing it in checked luggage. In that case, the passenger can be subject to criminal prosecution. Failing to comply with the rules can result in up to ten years in prison and a $179,933 civil penalty. Many other aviation authorities around the world have also issued bans against the phone, and some airlines now equip their planes with “fire containment bags” for sealing up malfunctioning electronic devices.(1,2,3,4)
9. Due to problems with China’s justice system, wealthy people can hire someone else to be prosecuted for their crimes. This process is called “ding zui” which translates to “substitute criminal.”
While there’s not an actual law that allows “ding zui”, China’s justice system allows the practice to flourish according to a law professor who’s studying the phenomenon. “You have a system that is in effect tolerant of false confessions.” One reason for this is that police and prosecutors are under a lot of pressure to solve cases within a certain time frame.
Chinese courts only acquit the defendant less than 1% of the time, so once a substitute makes it to court, it’s unlikely they will be discovered. This situation has led speculation that wealthy defendants in some high profile cases have used body doubles to take their place in prison. It’s difficult to gauge how often the practice occurs because if a substitute criminal is used successfully, it may never come to public attention. According to a police officer in central China, the practice is not rare. He gave the example of high-ranking members of the mafia who have underlings serve prison time for them.
There are some documented cases of failed “ding zui” attempts. For example, in 2012, an uninsured coach driver killed a motorcyclist in a traffic accident. Before police arrived, the driver offered one of the coach passengers 150,000 RMB (about $22,600) to take his place. The passenger agreed. But after several rounds of questioning, the passenger confessed to the scam. The driver was sentenced to one year and two months in prison.
Another man made a career out of being a substitute criminal. Guo Ronghui was a 25-year-old drug addict that had been diagnosed with leukemia. His medical condition made him eligible for medical parole so he would not serve time for minor crimes. Allegedly, he acted as a substitute for 172 cases which were mostly drug and firearms charges. In total, he was sentenced to over 48 years in prison but served no time. Ronghui typically charged the equivalent of about $6,600 to $13,000 per case. In 2007, when he was being questioned about violating his parole, he confessed he had been acting as a substitute criminal for 10 years.(1,2,3)
10. Nazi Germany introduced strict animal rights laws in the 1930s. They included a law against slaughtering any animal without anesthetic. Germany’s current animal rights laws are diluted versions of the ones Nazis created.
What makes these laws absurd is the hypocrisy behind them. While the Nazis introduced laws against causing unnecessary animal suffering, they were also committing atrocities against humanity. Some Germans who violated the animal welfare laws were sent to concentration camps including one fisherman who was accused of cutting up a bait frog.
At the time, the animal protection laws created by the Nazis were the world’s most comprehensive. They included banning inhumane treatment of animals for experimentation, film production, the use of dogs in hunting, and inhumane killing of farm animals. However, there is some debate over how well these laws were enforced. For instance, it’s known that there were many animal experiments carried out under the Nazi regime.
Some of the laws the Nazis introduced were later diluted, but today Germany still has stringent laws regarding animal welfare. World Animal Protection has given Germany an “A” grade for “laws against causing animal suffering.” For comparison, the US received a “C.”(1,2,3,4)