Two of the ones that make many of the lists are “A city ordinance states that a person cannot go barefoot without first obtaining a special five-dollar permit” (somewhere in Texas) and “In the hippy-dippy late ’60s, Youngstown, Ohio, briefly had a law making it illegal to walk barefoot through town.”
It is good to take these lists with a block of salt. As wikipedia points out, “Some of the purported ‘dumb laws’ have no basis in reality, or are an exaggeration of real laws. For example a reasonable law about preservations of rare cactus species may be presented as humorous statement that ‘There is a possible 25 years in prison for cutting down a cactus.'” I’ve found much the same, myself. In the Ohio section, there is usually one that says, “It is illegal to fish for whales on Sunday.” Well, of course, the Ohio statutes make no reference to whales. Instead, what the law said was, “No person shall hunt a wild bird or wild quadruped, except coyotes, fox, groundhogs, or migratory waterfowl . . . on Sunday.” That is, almost all hunting was banned on Sundays. Of course, whales are quadrupeds, so taking them on a Sunday was banned just as much as taking a deer on a Sunday. That law was repealed in 1998.
So call me suspicious of the other barefooting laws.
We do know that back in 1969 a (minor) attempt was made in San Francisco to ban bare feet. The following story was in the April 3, 1969 issue of the San Francisco Chronical (p. 3):
Footloose in San Francisco
John Greenleaf Whittier’s “barefoot boy with cheek of tan” could not be ruled off San Francisco streets for failing to have the proper footgear, according to City Attorney Thomas M. O’Connor.
He informed the Board of Supervisors yesterday that the city cannot outlaw bare feet unless it can prove they are a threat to the public health.
“Unless the proposed legislation can be justified as protecting the general public from disease or injury,” said O’Connor, “legislation designed solely to protect that portion of the populace who desire to roam the streets barefooted cannot be justified as a legitimate exercise of the police power.
If the city can produce medical evidence that bare feet are a hazard to the public health, it can possibly draft a law prohibiting them.
“If the [supervisors] committee wishes to pursue the subject,” said the city attorney gently, “it should consult with competent medical authority.”
The issue had been brought to the Board by an alarmed citizen who urged them to outlaw bare feet for the protection of the walker.
O’Connor pointed out that no law could be adopted to protect barefooted persons from the dangers of street and sidewalk, but only to protect the general public from disease or injury.
However, some recent research of mine has turned up information of the Youngstown, Ohio, ordinance. It actually did exist, and it was declared unconstitutional in a court case. Here’s the story from the April 22, 1969 Cleveland Plain Dealer (p. 18A):
Youngstown Council Chided
Barefoot Law Gets Boot
YOUNGSTOWN — This city’s barefoot ordinance was ruled illegal yesterday by Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Sidney Rigerhaupt who took verbal aim at a university teacher who initiated the case, the Civil Liberties Union and Youngstown City Council.
Mrs. Terrie Curran, an English and communications instructor at Youngstown State University, filed the suit. Judge Rigelhaupt devoted several pages of his opinion to Mrs. Curran’s attitude, the “wasted efforts of the Civil Liberties Union” and the futility of the city ordinance outlawing barefoot pedestrians downtown.
NEVERTHELESS, Judge Rigelhaupt declared unconstitutional the barefoot ordinance of Sept. 4, 1968. The judge said the ordinance violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution because it involves the right of privacy, “which is no less important than any other right carefully and particularly reserved to the people.”
The ordinance provided that no one over 6 years’ old would be allowed downtown in bare feet.
“In a country involved in such events as the Vietnam war, taxes, student riots and crime, which require the constant attention and service of all of us, it would appear that the council of the city of Youngstown could spend its time more profitably than in passing ordinances prohibiting people from walking downtown in their bare feet,” the judge said.