Dumb Laws Volume 1: Costumes that are Holy Illegal

As a Libertarian, I often talk about unnecessary laws. The focus is typically on unjust laws that are zealously enforced and cause harm to society as a whole. But there are also a whole bunch of bad laws on the books that, though not as damaging to the liberty of the average Alabamian, are quite absurd. I've decided to focus on some of these laws which go to highlight how far we have let our government go in drafting and enacting awful legislation. Once in the State House of Representatives, I will work to remove all of these silly laws from our books.

For the first volume we will talk about Alabama Code 13A-14-4: Fraudulently Pretending to be a Clergyman. Let's stipulate and recognize that, independent from this statute, you still cannot harm another person through fraud without being subject to criminal penalties or a civil cause of action. That would be equally true if you were impersonating a priest, a plumber or Nick Saban. But let's look at the text of this law and see how it is different:

Whoever, being in a public place, fraudulently pretends by garb or outward array to be a minister of any religion, or nun, priest, rabbi or other member of the clergy, is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $500.00 or confinement in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

You will note that this law does not require that this "fraud" result in any harm to anyone. Rather, it criminalizes dressing up like a member of the clergy. So, this young fella below is guilty of a misdemeanor in Alabama, under current law. So you better think twice before dressing as your favorite Pope for Halloween.

I am Catholic and have great respect for our local clergy, but I would challenge you to find a single "nun, priest, rabbi or other member of the clergy" who would be in favor of criminalizing conduct such as this. So, why does this law exist? Your guess is as good as mine, but the fact that the law has been on the books since 1965 does not speak well of our State Legislature. I will credit the legislature from removing some of the sillier offenses in 2015, but they obviously did not go far enough.

I know some of you may be thinking, "Does this really matter? No one is going to get arrested for wearing a nun costume." And you may be right. I don't think anyone is currently at risk of such a charge. But the fact remains that someone could be charged with a crime based upon Ala. Code 13A-14-4. And, if the judge and/or jury followed the law, that person would be convicted.** Frankly, I don't want to live in a state where that's even a remote possibility. It reflects badly on Alabama and is counter to our basic freedoms. 

In Volume II, we will look at Alabama Code 6-5-350, 351: Seduction.


**This is actually a good argument for allowing attorneys to appeal to jury nullification in criminal cases. Jury nullification can serve as a check on the power of bad legislators passing bad laws. But that's a discussion for another time.

As always, I invite questions. And I would be happy to address any issues or ideas you might have. So please don't hesitate to get in contact with me. 

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  • Matt Shelby
    published this page in Blog 2018-07-24 15:02:07 -0500