These Halloween laws are just plain scary
As children in Mississippi and around the country prepare for a night of trick-or-treating, they may unknowingly run afoul with local laws.
These aren’t laws restricting criminal actions often associated with Halloween mischief, such as egging a house or smashing pumpkins that belong to someone else. Rather, these are restrictions on who can trick-or-treat, how late they can be out and what they can or can’t wear.
A story on Roanoke, Virginia’s trick-or-treating laws went viral last year. In Roanoke, no one over 12 is allowed to trick-or-treat. Not only is it illegal, it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.
While the potential jail time might not apply, the city of Meridian also prohibits those over 12 from asking for candy. “It shall be unlawful for any person to appear on the streets, highways, public homes, private homes, or public places in the city to make trick or treat visitations; except, that this section shall not apply to children 12 years old and under on Halloween night,” the ordinance reads. And you have to be inside by 8 p.m.
Throughout the country, towns like Belville, Illinois, Bishopville, South Carolina, and Boonsboro, Maryland have similar age limits.
Meridian also restricts anyone over 12 from wearing a mask or any other disguise, unless they get a permission slip from the mayor or chief of police. Dublin, Georgia, and Walnut Creek, California, have similar mask restrictions.
The rest of your costume may also be illegal in some locales. In Alabama, it’s illegal to dress up as a minister, priest, nun or any other member of clergy. Violators can be slapped with a $500 fine and a year in jail.
In a recent move that received national attention, the Kemper County Board of Supervisors approved a measure in 2016 that made it illegal for anyone to appear in public in a clown costume or clown makeup for Halloween that year. The ordinance expired the day after Halloween. That ordinance carried a fine of $150 for outlaws who wore clown costumes.
The conventional wisdom is that these ordinances aren’t enforced. Police aren’t asking boys who are starting to show signs of facial hair for identification to check their age. Chances are no one is spending 365 days in a county jail in Alabama for impersonating a priest or rabbi.
Which, of course, leads to the next question: Why have such laws? We already have laws on the books to restrict actual criminal activity. We don’t need additional laws that are confusing and do little but potentially ruin a fun night for millions of children.
We simply have too many laws in this country. It should not be government’s responsibility to regulate the behavior of children on a Halloween night running through the neighborhood in pursuit of treats. That responsibility belongs to the parents, just like it should on every other night of the year.
Brett Kittredge is director of marketing and communications for the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
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