Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Spooky Laws

Matt Soniak at mental_floss posts on five cryptids that have managed to get state or national legal protection, even though the scientific community does not find sufficient evidence for their existence. These laws protect Bigfoot, Nessie, the Mi-Go (ok, the Migoi of Bhutan, not H.P. Lovecraft's Fungi from the Former Planet Known as Pluto) from poachers or other harm.

While perhaps the highest profile, these are not the only laws or government decisions that touch on Spooky matters.

One of the more famous is the US Presidential Determination that rules the Groom Lake facility, aka Area 51, out of the bounds of US legal action and oversight. This order, which has since been annually reaffirmed by Pres. Clinton and Bush II, quashed a lawsuit brought against the US government by former employees, or their next of kin, regarding toxic contamination and sickness. While not specifically about UFOs, it does touch on one aspect of the subject. Edit: It also now appears that Groom Lake now has an airport designation, one more thing to bring it in line with the rest of the world.

Less famous but more important is JANAP-146. In 1954, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the US issued a directive that required civilian airline pilots to report UFOs, in addition to missiles, submarines, foreign military aircraft, etc. to the US military. Once this occurred, because this was considered information important for national security, the pilots were not allowed to talk about the sightings in public. Pilots didn't like being interrogated for hours, and then being silenced, so it is no surprise if any stopped reporting UFO sightings.

One law often mentioned is a 1969 addition to the US Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14 Section 1211. As noted by Snopes, this law is often misrepresented as criminalizing making contact with extraterrestrials or their vehicles, when in reality the law is stated to apply to NASA vehicles and personnel, and does not criminalize contact but instead allows for quarantine (which frankly doesn't sound better). The law was repealed in 1991.

In the ghostly realms, there are various state laws concerning whether or not realtors or sellers must disclose whether or not a house is haunted. In 1991, the most famous of these decisions was handed down by the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate division in Stambovsky vs. Ackley. The case involved a house in New York's lower Hudson Valley which had been repeatedly described in the press (with the permission of the owners) as haunted. When the house was sold, the new owner found out the house had a reputation for poltergeist activity, and wanted out of the deal. In the final decision, the court found that the previous press made the house haunted in a legal sense of stigmatized property, regardless of whether a house can be considered haunted from a scientific perspective. Because a haunting cannot be easily determined by a buyer or their inspectors, it is the duty of the seller to disclose the haunting. Since that time, Massachusetts has passed a law that does not require sellers to disclose previous ghostly activity, unless the buyer asks.

Recently, there has been a lot of news about communities deciding whether to allow or to ban psychics, tarot readers, and other diviners. Salem, yes the famous one in Massachusetts, has had a very public fight about the topic, as chronicled (along with numerous other similar cases) in the Wild Hunt.

There are of course various proclamations by the US Congress or state legislatures, never mind laws elsewhere, that designate various days to celebrate religious holidays, and this has at times included the paranormal. I believe New Mexico did this for UFOs a few years ago to promote tourism, and Nevada of course renamed a section of highway near Groom Lake as the E.T. Highway. But these are ceremonial, not involving serious (or semi-serious) law.

That's all I can think of for the moment, but I'll post any other examples I run across.

Update: 4/15/08 - Italian homeowner is suing the former owners for not telling him the house is haunted. Not that it is supposedly haunted, but that it is actually haunted.

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