Prejudice Towards the Florida Legislature; Or: “OMG! Florida has Just Banned All Sex! (And Genocide is Funny!)”
[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here. Or by Twitter @AaronWorthing.]
Southern Fried Scientist (SFS) thought he had a funny scoop yesterday when he made a little discovery. Here’s what he wrote:
Florida Senate fails basic biology, accidentally outlaws sex.
By Southern Fried Scientist, on May 11th, 2011
Question: If your elected officials fail basic taxonomy, promote anti-science curriculum, and consistently attempt to undermine the fundamental unpinning of all biology, what happens when they start trying to legislate from this flawed view of reality?
The answer is this poorly-worded miasma of a law recently passed in Florida, which presumably was designed to prevent bestiality and promote animal welfare, but which has actually made it illegal, effective October 1, 2011, for anyone to have sex in Florida.
Why? Well, he bases it on a statute that says things like:
A person may not… [k]nowingly engage in any sexual conduct or sexual contact with an animal
And you see technically humans are animals, too, so… therefore they have banned all sex, although there are exceptions:
This section does not apply to accepted animal husbandry practices, conformation judging practices, or accepted veterinary medical practices.
So there is that.
Now, I joined in the mirth for about two seconds because I have trouble resisting a good laugh, but for all his mockery of the ignorance of the Florida legislature, what is actually on display is SFS’ aggressive ignorance of the law, seen through a prism of apparent prejudice aimed at the Florida legislature. Now ignorance of the law is forgivable. But the beginning of wisdom is “I don’t know. ” And arrogant, aggressive ignorance of the law that condemns a person for doing something correctly because you are too ignorant to understand they have done it correctly is a violation of that principle of humility that deserves to be condemned. That it also seems to be driven by animus deepens my contempt.
For instance, SFS might have considered cracking open a legal dictionary. Here’s what my copy of Black’s Law Dictionary says:
Are the people who wrote that ignorant anti-science rednecks? Of course not. Indeed, as suggested by the citation to Bernadine v. City of New York, Black’s Law Dictionary is simply recognizing what the legal definition of animal has been for some time.
It is important to understand that very often the courts will look to books such as Black’s Law Dictionary as strong evidence of what any legislature meant by invoking certain terms. In other words, if for any reason any court considered for one moment that somehow all sex was banned under this Florida statute, the court would crack open a book like Black’s Law Dictionary and more likely than not, use that definition of animal. For instance, in Bernadine (sorry, I can’t find a linkable version of the opinion), the court was discussing whether a statute applying to the “operation of a vehicle” included the use of a horse as a beast of burden, arguing that the very word “operate” suggests that the term didn’t apply to animals, writing:
One may operate a mechanical device or other inanimate object… One may not operate a horse, which is an animal, i. e., “Any animate being which is not human, endowed with the power of voluntary motion.” (Bouvier’s Law Dictionary [Rawles 3d Rev.] p. 195.)
In other words the court was quoting Bouvier’s Law Dictionary as being the understood definition of the word “animal” in the legal world.
Or SFS could have even cracked open a copy of Webster’s Dictionary. The courts will often look to dictionaries such as Webster’s, too. And “[y]ou can even look it up on your computer machine” as Angry Black Lady says over at Balloon Juice. Here’s what Webster’s says on the subject:
1: any of a kingdom (Animalia) of living things including many-celled organisms and often many of the single-celled ones (as protozoans) that typically differ from plants in having cells without cellulose walls, in lacking chlorophyll and the capacity for photosynthesis, in requiring more complex food materials (as proteins), in being organized to a greater degree of complexity, and in having the capacity for spontaneous movement and rapid motor responses to stimulation
2 a : one of the lower animals as distinguished from human beings b : mammal; broadly : vertebrate
3: a human being considered chiefly as physical or nonrational; also : this nature
4: a person with a particular interest or aptitude <a political animal>
5: matter, thing <the theater … is an entirely different animal— Arthur Miller>; also : creature 1c
— an·i·mal·like adjective
Reading it, you see what is obvious to anyone who, you know, actually speaks normal English: that we use taxonomically incorrect definitions of “animal” all the time. For instance, it is a cliché to say that something is “what separates us from animals.”
But it gets even better, and SFS’ ignorance becomes more obvious. You see, the Florida legislature didn’t need to explain that they meant “lower animals” because a previous statute already made it clear:
828.02 Definitions.—In this chapter, and in every law of the state relating to or in any way affecting animals, the word “animal” shall be held to include every living dumb creature;
(emphasis added.) Which I admit is a pretty funny, archaic definition of lower animal. But humor aside, that is already on the books. So the current legislature didn’t fail taxonomy so much as they demonstrated a knowledge of what the state law actually said, which SFS apparently lacks. And indeed if they rewrote this bestiality statute to use the words “non-human animal” or “lower animal” when the state had already defined the term animal, they might have sown confusion on a legal term that was already settled. For instance if they said “non-human animal” that would suggest that the Florida legislature considered some animals besides humans to be something other than a “dumb creature.” That could in turn then be used to imply that the general animal cruelty laws didn’t apply to chimpanzees, allowing Beavis and Butthead to torture one without punishment. Not that that outcome was very likely, but the best practice is not to do anything to even create that doubt, resulting in needless litigation.
So rather than being a dumb decision, what the Florida legislature did was the wisest thing: accept the taxonomically incorrect but legally settled definition of “animal” already in the statute books and write the law against that backdrop. And here’s this ignorant man making fun of them for it.
Oh, and before singling out Florida for this display of prejudice and aggressive ignorance, SFS might have looked to some other state’s laws. And this wouldn’t have required any legal education to do this. I did a simple Google Search and on the second link found this page listing the various bestiality laws across the country. SFS probably couldn’t have verified the accuracy of those quoted statutes, but it should have at least given him pause before singling out and making fun of Florida for what is in fact fairly commonplace statutory language.
And incidentally what do those states’ laws on bestiality say? Well, I didn’t verify each of that site’s representations as to statutory language, but I did check New York, Wisconsin, and Maryland. In New York one is guilty of a crime if one “engages in sexual conduct with an animal or a dead human body.” And in Wisconsin a crime is committed if one “[c]ommits an act of sexual gratification involving his or her sex organ and the sex organ, mouth or anus of an animal.” And in Maryland we are told that
A person may not:
(1) take the sexual organ of another or of an animal in the person’s mouth;
(2) place the person’s sexual organ in the mouth of another or of an animal; or
(3) commit another unnatural or perverted sexual practice with another or with an animal.
And that edict is enforced with criminal penalties. Of course that law had been rendered partially unconstitutional under Lawrence v. Texas since it seems to ban oral sex between consenting (human) adults. But there is little doubt the remainder of the statute remains enforceable.
So the point is lots of states have similarly-worded laws. Surely SFS doesn’t believe that all of those states are filled with stupid anti-science rednecks, does he?
And the fact that SFS is engaged in a little stereotyping, is given away by his attribution of this to their decision to “promote anti-science curriculum” when frankly his entire analysis is the product of his own aggressive ignorance of the law. Now to be fair, in a later update, SFS links to where Rick Hasen makes the super-obvious point that the courts are not going to interpret the law in an absurd way.
Still, to paraphrase Mark Twain, a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth even gets its boots on. And while SFS is probably merely mistaken and not actually lying (and aggressive in his ignorance), this has been spreading across the internet. For instance Alan Colmes, Gawker, the St. Petersburg Times, and the man who is like Superglue to Stupid fell for it, while Michael Froomkin sees through this and talks about the time the Supreme Court decided whether a tomato was a fruit or a vegetable. Froomkin really makes a good point and his post is worth reading, too. But for the most spectacular fail we get Angry Black Lady of Balloon Juice who, to her credit, did find the “dumb creature” language I quoted above, but then after accusing the Florida legislature of bad taxonomy, she ends with the bad biology of eugenics.
If the Teabillies won’t get out of the gene pool, then we should forcibly remove them under penalty of law.
You know, because genocide* is funny!
Am I violating Godwin’s Law if the person is actually making final solution jokes? I don’t think so.
* Yes, I know opinions are not genetically bound. But “Angry” apparently believes it is and therefore she wishes to commit what she believes will be genocide. Either that or she thinks that all “Teabillyism” is the result of stupidity and thus if we get rid of the stupid we will end the Tea Party or something. You know, because massive debt, caused by massive spending supported by massive taxes, resulting in massive government is the smart thing to do.
[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]