A surprising number of archaic laws are still on the books. Here are a few that are in fact still laws in some states, even if they are rarely (if ever) enforced.
1) Atheists are barred from holding office in seven states.
It might sound crazy, but atheists are barred from holding public office in Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Maryland. Per a 1961 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, though, these laws are unenforceable. A man named Ray Torcaso sued the state of Maryland when they tried to make him sign a notarized affidavit attesting to his belief in God. He won.
Even though these laws are unenforceable, they remain on the books. There’s little desire to repeal them because they hold no power, but many atheists and libertarians find these laws troubling nonetheless.
2) Emails older than 180 days can be accessed without a warrant.
In 1986, Congress passed the Stored Communication Act, which allowed the government to access any electronic communication older than 180 days. This might sound insane, but it’s the law. If you’re someone who doesn’t delete old emails, the federal government can read through them whenever it likes.
It’s because the Fourth Amendment guarantees citizens the right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that these protections are far broader in an electronic context and that the amendment does not offer protections online or on your computer.
Congress has the power to amend this law at any time, but thus far there has been no movement to change this act. It’s possible that the Supreme Court could rule this law unconstitutional, but no pending cases that deal with this law have been granted review in the Court.
3) Throwing confetti or silly string is banned in Mobile, Alabama.
Most of us have thrown confetti or sprayed silly string at some point in our lives. If you did this in Mobile, Alabama, you have broken the law.
This law is on the books reportedly as a safety measure. Confetti could potentially be inhaled, causing difficulty breathing. We’ve never actually heard of this happening, but the people of Mobile have decided not to take any chances.
4) Fortune telling requires a permit in Santa Cruz, California.
Most people view fortune telling as a fun activity that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. The people of Santa Cruz, however, apparently take it quite seriously. You can’t tell fortunes unless you have a license to do so.
The permit isn’t difficult to get, provided a person has no criminal background. Anyone telling fortunes or otherwise practicing metaphysics needs to be licensed in this city, otherwise they could be shut down.
5) In 29 states, it’s legal to fire someone for being gay.
For many people, sexual orientation was not seen as a civil rights issue until very recently. Because of this, many states passed laws allowing employers to fire workers for being gay. In 29 states, those laws are still on the books.
A recent court ruling in the Seventh Circuit ruled that it is illegal for employers to engage in this discrimination, but it will take a Supreme Court ruling to officially ban this practice nationwide. Until then, if you live in more than half the states in this country, you can marry the person you love but could potentially lose your job for doing so.