Massachusetts is viewed by much of the country as a bastion of progressive thought. First in the nation to have near-universal health care. First jurisdiction in the country to legalize gay marriage. The only state Nixon didn’t win in 1972. And so on and so forth.
But the commonwealth has plenty of weird, backward laws, thanks in large part to the state’s puritanical past. Here’s some of the wackier ones that have graced the state’s law books:
1) It’s illegal to sing part of the national anthem in any public place. That includes theatres, restaurants or cafes. You must sing the whole thing else face a fine that, by the letter of the law, could reach $100. The law also prohibits any “embellishment or addition in the way of national or other melodies.” Jingoism, thy home is the Bay State. Vince Neil, take note.
2) And don’t even think about scaring those pigeons. Yeah, spooking the rats with wings is also illegal, punishable by “imprisonment for not more than one month or a fine by not more than twenty dollars.” The law harkens back to a time when people would trap pigeons using nets. Something to think about that the next time you get into a staring contest with a clique of Columbidae while on your lunch break in Copley.
3) At one point, being a disobedient child was a capital offense in Massachusetts. In 1646, a bunch of folks had a very literal and stringent interpretation of the bible. Hawthorne was right: those Puritans had no chill.
“I don’t think there’s any evidence anyone killed any children because they were bad, but it was in the early laws of Massachusetts,” said Peter Drummey, a librarian at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
That law, according to scholar John R. Sutton, was the genesis of modern juvenile justice statutes. Capital punishment was ruled unconstitutional in the state in 1984.
4) The next time you’re mulling streaking a mass, consider the state's blasphemy law. Not only will your great aunt Theresa be mortified, you’ll also be in violation of Massachusetts blasphemy laws that are still on the books. Denying God, cursing or reproaching him is punishable by imprisonment up to one year and a fine of not more than three hundred dollars. You may also be “bound to good behavior,” whatever that means. Should you interrupt an assembly of people who are meeting for the worship of God, the law calls for possible imprisonment of up to a year and a fine that could reach $1,000. Like most of these laws, many legal scholars say these rules, if they were ever enforced or challenged, would be found to be unconstitutional.
5) No swearing at Fenway. Unless you’re under 16. Then it’s OK. No, really, under state law:
“Whoever, having arrived at the age of sixteen years, directs any profane, obscene or impure language or slanderous statement at a participant or an official in a sporting event, shall be punished by a fine of not more than fifty dollars.”
We are all criminals. Whoever wrote that has not experienced the maddening rollercoaster that is a Clay Buchholz start.
6) Don’t swear on the T either.
Per state law: Whoever, in or upon a railroad carriage, steamboat or other public conveyance, is disorderly, or disturbs or annoys travelers in or upon the same by profane, obscene or indecent language, or by indecent behavior, shall be punished as provided in section forty.
7) No sexy time. Fornication – generally defined as sex between two people who are not married – is also illegal. Punishment? Imprisonment for not more than three months and a fine of up to $30. Bummer.