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All these seemingly reputable news sites

The restiveness in Greenville was enough for police to warn that South Carolina law prohibits anyone over age 18 from dressing up as a clown. Chief Miller said a city ordinance related to "molesting or disturbing the public" could also lead to prosecution of clowns taken into custody.

claim that South Carolina law prohibits anyone over age 18 from dressing up as a clown. Is there any truth in this?

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    I don't know about the others, but both me and my SO are completely terrified of clowns. A city having a law like this one would be a huge plus when searching for somewhere to live! – T. Sar Oct 5 '16 at 20:27
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It's possible that there is some clown-specific law that I've missed, but it's likely referring to a more general ban against masks and related means of concealing your identity:

From Reuters:

Police Chief Ken Miller said that his department would begin enforcing a state law that bars anyone older than age 16 from publicly concealing their identity with items such as a mask for non-employment matters.

The applicable law can be found in SC Title 16, Chapter 7, Article 3:

SECTION 16-7-110. Wearing masks and the like.

No person over sixteen years of age shall appear or enter upon any lane, walk, alley, street, road, public way or highway of this State or upon the public property of the State or of any municipality or county in this State while wearing a mask or other device which conceals his identity. Nor shall any such person demand entrance or admission to or enter upon the premises or into the enclosure or house of any other person while wearing a mask or device which conceals his identity. Nor shall any such person, while wearing a mask or device which conceals his identity, participate in any meeting or demonstration upon the private property of another unless he shall have first obtained the written permission of the owner and the occupant of such property.

There are exceptions to the law for occupational reasons, holiday costumes, etc, found in Section 16-7-130 on the linked page.

The discrepancy in ages (16 v 18) is odd, but the two articles from Reuters appear to have used the same source for them (Chief Ken Miller) and were published only a day apart, so I'm assuming that the 18 was an oversight on their part, and got picked up from there in the other linked stories (both of your other links reference Reuters).

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    Huh, what about religious reasons? – Sebastian Redl Oct 6 '16 at 10:40
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    Religious reasons would be covered by the first amendment - "prohibits the making of any law [...] impeding the free exercise of religion," and so would be exempt even if there was no religious exemption in the SC law. – Andrew Oct 6 '16 at 10:58
  • My high school in Virginia had a pretty strict "no hat" policy, but it was understood by all that headcoverings required by a student's religion were exempt from the policy, and I never saw any student harassed or written up for wearing one. – Robert Columbia Nov 3 '16 at 13:33
  • @Andrew the 1990 Supreme Court decision en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employment_Division_v._Smith held "It is a permissible reading of the [free exercise clause]...to say that if prohibiting the exercise of religion is not the object of the [law] but merely the incidental effect of a generally applicable and otherwise valid provision, the First Amendment has not been offended" in denying Native Americans the use of peyote as part of their religion. – DavePhD Nov 3 '16 at 15:59
  • @DavePhD At which point it comes down to a balance of religions protection Vs public need. e.g. It is reasonable to state that covering your face in a bank or when presenting your passport to get on an airplane is not a protected religious freedom due to public safety interests. Walking down the street minding your own business is not a threatening or security critical situation and so the religion Vs public good balance is very different. Hiding in the woods trying to scare people is threatening and so claiming that being a clown is your religion wouldn't get you very far. – Andrew Nov 3 '16 at 16:20
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It looks like this sort of law isn't that unusual. Virginia has a similar provision, providing that (emphasis mine):

Code of Virginia, § 18.2-422. Prohibition of wearing of masks in certain places; exceptions.

It shall be unlawful for any person over 16 years of age to, with the intent to conceal his identity, wear any mask, hood or other device whereby a substantial portion of the face is hidden or covered so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, to be or appear in any public place....However, the provisions of this section shall not apply to persons (i) wearing traditional holiday costumes; (ii) engaged in professions, trades, employment or other activities and wearing protective masks which are deemed necessary for the physical safety of the wearer or other persons; (iii) engaged in any bona fide theatrical production or masquerade ball; or (iv) wearing a mask, hood or other device for bona fide medical reasons....

Several resources, including this one, indicate that the intent of the law was to provide a means by which police could prevent members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) from appearing in public in their white hoods. The law wasn't supposed to make Halloween costumes, white Santa beards, and other festive masks illegal.

There is also the matter of intent to conceal one's identity. One could make an argument that simply dressing as a clown for fun isn't done with intent to conceal one's identity, so it would still be legal even if none of the numbered exemptions applied.

  • -Can you dig in more and find out the law section specific to South Carolina. – pericles316 Nov 4 '16 at 9:08
  • @pericles316 sure, let me see what I can find. – Robert Columbia Nov 4 '16 at 14:59

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