Whistling--This is generally not a crime. But if it’s heard after 11 PM and more than one hundred feet away, it’s illegal in Athens GA. Well, sort of. Law enforcement officials say the ordinance is really meant for all human made LOUD noises… especially parties. This is just one of many laws across the country taken out of context by strange law websites. Georgia judge Charles Auslander says it doesn’t surprise him how laws get twisted.

“From the way that it's written, to the way that somebody thinks it’s written, to what they tell their friend, to what is on the Internet--I mean that doesn’t surprise me at all.”

Goldfish and bingo

One Athens, Georgia law listed online states that "It's illegal to giveaway a goldfish to entice someone to play Bingo."

Strange laws spread by word of mouth and on the Internet… but what is spread may not be exactly what is on the books. Judge Auslander says what most people consider “strange laws” are really just antiquated or misconceptions of the real law. For example, sites like dumblaws.com list odd local laws in each U.S. state. Laws like: it’s illegal to give away a goldfish to entice someone to play Bingo in Athens GA; it's unlawful to raise rats in Billings Montana; and it's illegal for any person in El Monte California to use a pinball machine.

Judge Auslander says even if these laws are taken somewhat out of context, they do not affect laws typically enforced.

“I think that people need to realize these laws were enacted at a time when things were different and so it shouldn’t surprise people that maybe back years and years ago somebody felt they were important.  But I don’t think it takes away from the laws that people expect to be enforced today.”

But many so-called strange laws originate from laws still enforced today, says Athens-Clarke Commissioner Kelly Girtz.

Take for example the goldfish and bingo law. Dumblaws.com says that in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, “Goldfish may not be given away to entice someone to enter a game of bingo.”

However, the full text of the “Animal Giveaway” ordinance reads:


“No person in Athens-Clarke County shall give away any live animal, fish, reptile or bird as a prize for, or as an inducement to enter, any contest, game, or other competition, or as an inducement to enter a place of amusement, or offer such animal as an incentive to enter into any business agreement whereby the offer was for the purpose of attracting trade.”

Girtz says this law as it stands today is not about free fish and bingo. He says he believes it has to do with more serious issues like chicken and dog fighting.

“Unfortunately and this is really unfortunately, we’ve actually still had violations of that code. So I haven’t heard of any fish fighting… but some cock fighting and dog fighting.”

Strange laws do exist… but law enforcement officials say they are not usually enforced.  Additionally, several U.S. states have begun the process of removing antiquated laws. Girtz says these laws may say seem strange now, but at one time they addressed a public concern. States including Oklahoma and New Jersey, are working to repeal, modernize, and clarify any outdated laws and/or laws that have “lost their meaning.”

In the meantime, Girtz advises people to do their research. Many laws listed on the Internet are just outdated… or not as strange as you think.

Meagan Priselac is Coca-Cola Journey's first student contributor and a fourth-year student at the University of Georgia where she is majoring in Digital & Broadcast Journalism with a minor in Geography. Though Priselac is a South Carolina transplant, she still calls the steel city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania home.  Upon graduation, Priselac plans on following her passion for videography, photography, and reporting into a broadcast journalism career. She also wrote "The Story Behind Reporting on Strange Laws" on Coca-Cola Journey.