Weirdest Laws In New Jersey

From Sussex to Cape May, New Jersey is a notoriously weird state. The home of UFO sightings, worm tornadoes, and the Jersey Devil is also home to some bizarre laws. Unlike the charmingly antiquated laws of some other states, many of these laws are still enforced, to the point where pumping your own gas, for instance, can get you a ticket. As the North Jersey Record pointed out, three barbershops in Hasbrouck Heights were forced to close on Sundays because of an outdated law that banned the businesses from operating on that day (the law has since been reversed).

Here are some of the weirdest laws that are still on the books in the Garden State, from bans on swearing and spitting to the "current" war on Axis powers. Don't worry if you find it confusing — as it turns out, even game show "Jeopardy!" got a New Jersey law wrong.

The state was still fighting World War II in the '90s

When The Newark Star-Ledger looked into New Jersey's bizarre state laws, they found a bonanza, including laws against child circus performers, whistles on bikes, and bounties on woodchucks. The weirdest thing they discovered, however, wasn't a single law — it was that every law that referred to the country's "present war" meant the war that ended in 1945.

"The words 'present war,' 'present war emergency,' 'the existing state of war,' 'present defense emergency," always legally mean "the present wars with the governments of Japan, Germany and Italy," says the New Jersey law. This statute would end at the "the making of a treaty or treaties of peace concluding all of said wars" (via Justia). Notably, Germany initially did not sign a peace treaty, as it was occupied and split up following World War II.

This only changed in 1990, when an agreement was finally signed after the fall of the Berlin Wall (via George Mason University). So even if the rest of America declared victory in World War II, New Jersey was still fighting against the Axis powers until the year Sinéad O'Connor released "Nothing Compares 2 U."

It's illegal to pump your own gas

When you go to a New Jersey gas station, don't get out of the car — an attendant will pump the gas for you. Beginning in 1949 with the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act, it's been illegal to pump your own gas in New Jersey for longer than many motorists have been alive, according to Jalopnik. New Jersey is the only state in the country that still has this law, though parts of Oregon operate similarly. The penalties for breaking ​​N.J.S.A. 34:3A:10 are surprisingly severe, too — a $50 to $250 fine for the first offense and a fine of up to $500 for each subsequent bit of self-service, according to Jersey lawyer Mark A. Bernstein. Talk about high gas prices!

The law was initially enacted for safety concerns that still exist today — fires, slip-and-falls — even though these risks may seem minor compared with other auto-related dangers. But the state maintains that the law has plenty of additional advantages, including minimizing exposure to gas fumes and increasing accessibility at the pump.

In Bergen County, most shopping is banned on Sundays

In 2017, "Jeopardy!" presented the following clue as one of its Double Jeopardy spaces (via North Jersey): "Bergen County, New Jersey has one of the USA's last blue laws, banning retailers from doing this."

Contestants were confused — they assumed it had something to do with selling alcohol in particular. Host Alex Trebek claimed the real answer was that Bergen County banned all commerce on Sundays. In fact, he was wrong — essentials like food and beverages (including beer and wine, according to NJ Family) can be sold on Sundays, but not clothes, appliances, or furniture, according to WNYC. Residents of Bergen County seem mixed on the law — some say it's inconvenient, others say it helps them take Sunday off to relax (and enjoy the state's highways without traffic congestion). It's a big deal for the county, which is located just outside of New York City and contains some of the largest shopping complexes in the country.

In Teaneck, spitting on the sidewalk was illegal

Some of the most unusual laws in New Jersey exist within townships, which may not have the resources to keep their legal code up to date (you can still find an ordinance in Rutherford on maintaining cow udders, according to North Jersey).

While reviewing some of the town's older laws, Teaneck Councilman Keith Kaplan even found some that might be construed as discriminatory. "Reading through our own code right now, there's a lot that's unconstitutional or somewhere in between," he told the North Jersey Record in 2018. These ordinances included a prohibition on lewd acts in private and dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex. Even spitting on the sidewalk or street in Teaneck could get you a $25 fine (if you found a police officer that wanted to enforce this law).

"These can be used deliberately to cause a lot of strife," Kaplan said of Teaneck's antiquated laws, many of which he worked to overturn in 2019 (via North Jersey).

Several towns have outlawed cursing

One of the ordinances that Teaneck overturned in 2019 was a ban on cursing, according to the North Jersey Record. In this ordinance, however, the township wasn't alone. Raritan, New Jersey, banned swear words in 1994. That's not a typo, that's not supposed to be 1694 — they did it the same year Jeff Bezos incorporated Amazon (via Britannica). The law said that swearing in public or private could get you slapped with a $500 fine, according to Mel Magazine.

This was immediately challenged by the ACLU, who claimed the law was obviously unconstitutional. "There is much speech that may be rude but is nonetheless protected under the First Amendment," said Marcia Wenk, the legal director for the ACLU of New Jersey at the time, to United Press International. But a borough administrator for the town claimed it was fine because "it's designed to protect the person who leaves a restaurant and begins hearing taunts from juveniles or cussing."

Somehow, the law is still in effect — possibly because no one has ever been prosecuted for it, according to a local councilman speaking to New Jersey 101.5 FM.