Breakin’ the law

It has regrettably come to my attention in recent weeks that one need not do anything to break a law in Provo. I mean this in the most literal sense possible, and if you doubt the possibility of this seemingly bold claim, I direct you to the following hypothetical reconstruction of an actual situation:

Mary owns a beat up old clunker which she intends to fix up on the cheap, and stores said vehicle in her back yard, away from the eyes of the public, who in all likelihood would be visually offended by the sore sight of a rusty Pontiac blighting the neighborhood’s pristine profile. Jim, Mary’s neighbor, decides to upgrade his place of residence to more completely reflect a recent pay raise, and adds a second story to his house, from which Jim can see into Mary’s backyard, and therefore see the rusty Pontiac which patiently awaits various refurbishments.

Aside from the possibilities for peeping tomfoolery (mixed idiom intended), there is a very real consequence of Jim’s home improvement: Mary is now, through no action of her own, in violation of Provo city code, which in distilled form states that inoperable (read: ugly) cars cannot be stored in view of the public, and she is subject to the full penalty of that law.

This is simply one among many ways in which absurd Provo laws invade and distort the lives of its citizens. Another example: more than three unrelated individuals cannot live at the same address unless that address’ physical location happens to lie just south of the BYU campus. Yet another example: more than five people cannot congregate on the front lawn of your house without being in violation of a law. Another: having a sufficiently unkempt lawn constitutes an infraction.

These are simply examples of strange laws related only to places of residence. There are dozens of other examples regulating your ability to make rational adult decisions, ranging from laws about how, when, and where to consume and buy alcoholic beverages to where it is and is not legal to carry a loaded and hidden firearm (for the record, it is legal to do so almost everywhere including this campus, your church, the grocery store, and many public buildings).

What in the name of all that is good and rational in this world are the legislators in Provo, nay, the entire state of Utah, doing? Or thinking? Instruments of death practically anywhere? Hell yes! Barbeques at your own house in view of others? Get ’em!

It is not my intention here to simply point out the strangeness of all this and let that be the end of it. I mean to suggest that the well-understood Utahan obsession with presenting a positive image of sterile beauty is, within the city limits of Provo, taken to such an extreme as to actually get in the way of both good sense and personal freedom. Having grown up in the Chihuahuan desert, I happen to think dirt and rocks look attractive in a yard setting, and if I want my front lawn to reflect that preference, frankly I ought to be able to, even if my fellow Provoans happen to prefer more traditional landscaping. I can only hope that as I go home tonight to rake the dirt that my neighbors haven’t just come from a gun show.

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