FREEDOM TO DO WHAT?

People often complain about how government is steadily encroaching into our freedom by passing new laws and regulations. I have heard this complaint countless times over my career, and I occasionally encourage people to look at what laws prohibited in the past before being too critical about where government intrudes today.

Public Information Officer Marilyn Smith recently shared an ordinance she came across while doing some research into the history of Albany’s taxi regulations. Ordinance No. 1496, as amended in July 1948, is entitled, “An Ordinance Defining and Punishing Offenses Against the Public Peace, Safety, Morals and General Welfare.” Before going into specifics, it should be made clear that this ordinance allowed the police to arrest people for just about any reason they wanted. Section 2, for example, stated:

It shall be unlawful for any person to be guilty of any violent, riotous, or disorderly conduct, or of any obscene, immoral, indecent, lewd, or licentious act, or to use any profane or obscene language in any public place.

If this standard were in place today, I’m confident we could arrest a significant percentage of the population. Many of those who might not be in violation of Section 2, we could probably nab under Section 15, which prohibits disorderly houses:

It shall be unlawful for any person to set up, operate, or maintain, or to aid, abet, or assist in the setting up, operating, or maintaining of any disorderly house.

Disorderly apparently focused on prostitution but also dealt with fornication, lewdness, or other immoral practices including the use of drugs. I don’t even want to think about how cases were made against these practices in local homes or, worse yet, how Section 22’s prohibition against “lascivious cohabitation” was enforced. Just in case you couldn’t be thrown in the can for lascivious living, Section 23 could get you for “immoral acts.”

It shall be unlawful for any person to commit willfully and wrongfully any act which grossly injures the person or property of another, or which grossly defiles the peace or the public health, or which grossly outrages public decency and is injurious to public morals.

I think I could be regularly outraged by the behavior of fellow citizens, particularly those who engage in the practice of “mashing” which is outlawed in Section 25. Mashing only applies to males who, “accost insolently or without cause any female or to seek impertinently to attract or gain the attention of any such female or to ogle vulgarly, make improper advances or indecent remarks…”(emphasis mine). Good thing the President wasn’t in town in 1948.

Ordinance No. 1496 includes 11 pages of stuff people shouldn’t be doing in town, including using a bean shooter, so I won’t try to cover the whole range of prohibitions. Other ordinances of the time dealt with things like making sure no one under age 18 was allowed outdoors after 10:30 p.m. and that transporting of “swill” was confined to certain times of day. The good old days may have been great, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking they allowed more freedom than we have today.