Progress in Kansas


Is Snake-Eating Indecent?

AN article in Progress in Kansas entitled "Some Queer Laws", referring to enactments on the state's statute books, brings a rebuttal from Robert W. Hemphill, Norton attorney.

     The article mentioned that it was legal to dine on snakes, lizards, centipedes, scorpions or other reptiles in private but strictly against the law in public; also that a heavier penalty was provided for stealing chickens in the night than during the daytime.

     Mr. Hemphill makes this comment:

     "I do not see why our anti-snake eating law should produce merriment, although your article is the second I noticed on the subject. A Literary Digest article some months ago referred to it as an object of queerness. To my own mind a public performance of the kind referred to is an act of indecency and should be prohibited.
     "I am by no means a prude. Neither do I favor nudist exhibitions, but as between a nudist display, which is generally punishable as an act of indecent exhibition, and a snake eating exhibition, I think the snake eater the more entitled to punishment.

     "The type of carnival show mentioned was still in vogue 10 years ago. At that time I was county attorney, and sent the sheriff down to watch an exhibition of the nature in question with instructions to arrest forthwith. The showman got word of our intentions, however, and called the matter off, reporting, as I understood it, that the county attorney had objected to it on the ground that it was cruelty to dumb animals. The fact was I was not worried about the feelings of the snakes involved, but did consider the exhibition inherently indecent and properly subject to legislative restriction.
     "There is also a very good reason for differentiating between stealing chickens at night and in the day time, and our statute includes saddle and harness with chickens. Morally, there is probably not much difference, although coming 'as a thief in the night' might tend to show more premeditation and a habitualness or at least the typical qualities of thievery.

"I believe the real reason lies in the difficulty in detection, and ease in committing the crime. Any crime which is easy to commit and difficult to detect tends to become common, and the theory of the American people has always been that the best way to stop a crime that was being too frequently committed was to increase the penalty. There may be some fallacy in this line of reasoning, but it is too common a form of reasoning to be queer, and the enactment of the law in question was simply a response on the part of legislature to a popular demand. Even at that, the day time thief is entitled to some consideration by reason of his boldness and his giving the chicken owner half a chance. I am not making a brief for the other laws reported as queer, but will concede the point as to them."

     Progress in Kansas thanks Mr. Hemphill for his clarifying contribution.

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