8 Ridiculous Laws That Stop People From Helping Others

No good deed goes unpunished.

1. Arkansas Won’t Let a U.S. Navy Dentist Do Dental Work for Charity

Dr. Elizabeth Gohl was a dentist in the U.S. Navy for five years, where she performed hundreds of teeth extractions on sailors. She left the Navy and moved to Arkansas, where she wanted to extract teeth for free at a charity event. But the state said no.

Even though she is a licensed dentist and an orthodontist, a bizarre law kept her from volunteering. Arkansas is just one of eight states that ban orthodontists from performing basic dental services, like cleaning or removing teeth. The law also prevents another orthodontist, Dr. Ben Burris, from cleaning teeth on the cheap.

But brace yourselves bureaucrats: Dr. Gohl and Dr. Burris teamed up with the Institute for Justice and are taking the Arkansas Dental Board to court.

2. Man Donates Money, Gets Thrown in a Mental Hospital


Richard Wright became a local folk hero after he gave out silver coins and CA $50 and $100 bills to dozens of strangers in Nova Scotia. But after driving back home one night in March, police stopped him for a “wellness check.” Against his will, Wright was then taken to a mental hospital. Oddly enough, police had pulled over Wright two days before for his “suspicious” generosity, but let him go.

3. Florida Town Fined a Business for Its “Toys for Tots” Sign


Wanting to spread some holiday cheer, Corey Marion posted a sign at her business letting her customers know it was drop-off site for Toys for Tots. Since its inception, this Marine Corps program has distributed over 469 million toys. She thought the simple sign would be fine.

Instead, she was fined. The city of Deltona, Florida smacked her with a citation and banned a restaurant from even putting up a sign up at all. Both Marion and her fiancé, Jody Storozuk, an Army veteran, were shocked. “I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan,” Jody said. “I helped kids when I was there. Now to get a fine for helping kids in my country is outrageous.”

Fortunately, just like your favorite Christmas special, this too had a happy ending. One week after Marion was fined, Deltona’s city manager resigned. And in February, a judge threw out the citation.

4. Getting More People to Donate Bone Marrow Could Land You Five Years in Prison

At least 1,000 people die every year in the U.S. because they could not find a matching bone marrow donor. Seventy percent of people who need a transplant do not have a matching donor in their families. That means they have to rely on the kindness of strangers. But a mere two percent of the U.S. population is on the national registry.

One California nonprofit, MoreMarrowDonors.org, decided to offer small forms of compensation (like a housing allowance or scholarship) to attract more do-gooders. As they put it, “if people could receive compensation to give marrow (like they can be for eggs or sperm) the odds of finding a true life-saver would increase dramatically.”

But under the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA), the folks behind MoreMarrowDonors.org could have been felons. It was illegal to compensate bone marrow donors, even though bone marrow is not an “organ” and despite the fact that donating bone marrow has become much safer since the act was passed in 1984. Violating NOTA could mean up to five years in prison.

MoreMarrowDonors.org, along with adults with lethal blood diseases and the parents of sick children sued the government to end the ban on compensating marrow donors. In December 2011, they won in federal court. But a proposed new rule under consideration by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would bring back the ban on compensating bone marrow donors.

5. State Governments Discouraged Interracial Adoptions until the 1990s

In Texas and Tennessee, social workers were engaging in “race matching,” i.e. delaying or outright denying adoptions when a child’s race was different from his or her adoptive parents. One study revealed that minority children had to wait twice as long as white children to find an adoptive home.

In Texas, Lou Ann and Scott Mullen (pictured above) had tried to adopt two African-American boys but couldn’t, since the Mullens weren’t black. The Institute for Justice sued both states and stopped race matching when Texas settled in 1996 and Tennessee settled in 1998.

6. Dozens of Cities Ban Feeding the Homeless


A Florida couple, Debbie and Chico Jimenez, has been volunteering to feed over 100 homeless people once a week for the past year, using meals they cooked at home. But they were actually breaking the law. Police in Daytona Beach fined the Jimenezes and their four friends more than $2,000 collectively and threatened them with jail (though the fines were later dismissed).

Nor is this an isolated incident. In Birmingham, Alabama, Minister Rick Wood was shut down by police for serving food to the homeless without a food-truck permit. Meanwhile, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina requires a permit to feed homeless people in parks. (Though that isn’t even the craziest license required by the government.) According to a forthcoming report by the National Coalition for the Homeless, 33 cities have banned or are considering bans on sharing food with the homeless.

Many of the rationales for the bans are just a pretext to violate the rights of homeless people. For instance, Myrtle Beach argues that the ban is needed to prevent unsafe food from being served. Yet by that logic, Myrtle Beach should crack down on family reunions in parks.

But it’s hard to top the justification offered by Michael Bloomberg, then the mayor of New York City. Under his watch, the city banned donating food to homeless shelters because “the city can’t assess their salt, fat and fiber content.”

7. California City Threatened to Take a Gym for At-Risk Youth to Build Luxury Condos

The Community Youth Athletic Center (CYAC) has trained and tutored more than 1,000 kids over the past two decades in National City, California. The city decided to show its thanks by declaring the boxing gym (and almost 700 other properties) “blighted.” In 2005, National City approved a luxury condo project on the CYAC’s land and threatened to seize the gym with eminent domain. As IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes recounted, “the abuse of property rights had become so shameless by 2007 that the developer put up a ‘Coming Soon’ sign right next to the CYAC depicting the condo development.”

After a huge public backlash (Sports Illustrated even covered the CYAC’s fight), the mayor vowed not to condemn the gym. But the blight designation meant that National City could still seize the CYAC in the years to come. In a knockout blow, IJ struck down the bogus blight designation in a major California court ruling, ensuring the CYAC can continue its mentoring.

8. States Won’t Let Out-of-State Licensed Doctors Volunteer at Free Medical Service Events


For over 20 years, Remote Area Medical (RAM) has provided free medical care at weekend-long clinic events. People line up for hours to get free screenings, dental care, eye exams, physicals and other medical treatments from healthcare professionals. Founded by Stan Brock (who co-starred in Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom), RAM has treated over half a million patients at over 700 events in the United States.

Yet only a dozen states (including Missouri, Nevada and Tennessee) actually allow charitable medical organizations like RAM to operate. Elsewhere, volunteers are turned away because they do not have a license in the state they’re visiting, even though they’re licensed in their own state. When RAM tried to hold a clinic event in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. refused to issue a one-time waiver for its occupational licensing laws.

That needlessly limits the number of patients RAM can serve at its clinics. Brock noted that 60 percent of RAM’s volunteers are out-of-state: “Doctors are still calling me to say that it is easier to volunteer their services in places like Guatemala than it is here in the United States!”

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