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January 23, 2018

Ask Hickey: Is it really illegal to flirt in this Philly suburb?

Perusing the legal code of Haddon Township for answers

Advice Ask Hickey
Flirting Trinity Kubassek/

The law in one South Jersey town prohibits 'approaches any person of the opposite sex unknown to such person and by word, sign or gesture attempts to speak to or to become acquainted with such person against his will.'

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And now, this week’s question...

Can you confirm that it's illegal to flirt in our hometown of Haddon Twp., N.J.? This might give hope to some of our town's, um, more unfortunate gentleman suitors. - Tony A., via Facebook and Twitter

Always great to hear from people from the town where I was born and raised, Tony. Go Hawks; 08108 4 Lyfe!

Having spent my elementary and high-school years in The Twp., I did, in fact, have some run-ins with the law and - though I do not live there anymore - know officers on the force, what with one having grown up across the street from me and others as classmates at H.T.H.S.

As to the former, my parents were none too pleased when they got the call one spring night my senior year that probably went something like this: "Come get your son. We caught him drinking in the woods underage. He and some friends were playing soccer with a beer ball that they'd apparently emptied."

I share this story both to establish street cred, and acknowledge the depth of my knowledge regarding local laws.

Looking back, I was not much of a flirt during my time in Township. I had girlfriends, sure, but a rail-thin, loud-mouthed fellow doesn't fare well in the flirting pool, at least not then, if I even knew how to flirt at that stage in life.

Which is to say I never had any flirting-related legal entanglements because, having pursued an answer to your question, I learned that it is, in fact, illegal to flirt in Haddon Township, Camden County.

Well, depending on how you interpret Chapter 175 Section 12 of the township code, which Township Clerk Jenai Johnson sent my way when I asked this unusual question. (Thanks, Jenai!)

The chapter name: Peace and Good Order.

The section name: Offending or annoying persons in public places.

Its location in the code: Between sections governing public nudity and disturbing religious worship.

The text:

Whoever accosts or approaches any person of the opposite sex unknown to such person and by word, sign or gesture attempts to speak to or to become acquainted with such person against his will, on a public street or other public place in the Township, except in the transaction of legitimate business, or whoever attempts to entice or procure a person of the opposite sex to commit an unlawful act, or whoever accosts or approaches any person and by word, sign or gesture suggests or invites the doing of any indecent or unnatural act, shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished as provided in this chapter.

There's a lot to parse here, but I'll tell you my initial thoughts: This isn't as goofy as the annual stories about odd laws (whether they be blue or new) going into – or out of – effect.

It seems to address anybody with a clipboard asking passersby to help starving children or the environment as we're wont to see all over the place in Philly and, to a lesser extent, the suburbs.

That "any person of the opposite sex unknown to such person" hones in on your flirting question. Seems to me that this law directly targets catcalling which – in this day and age, per those subject to it and all people with dignity – is an exemplary move. (The targeting, not the catcalling, to be clear.)

Now, catcalling isn't flirting. It's obnoxiously, offensively crass. But the language of that code - specifically, "by word, sign or gesture attempts to speak to or to become acquainted with such person against his will" – can easily be interpreted as covering unwanted flirtation.

Yes, I suppose it technically is illegal to flirt in Haddon Township, N.J. 

Whether people have gotten arrested for it, I don't know. I'll bet it's on the jaywalking part of the attention spectrum for Haddon Township police officers. (If you have gotten arrested for, or filed a complaint about, flirting in Haddon Township, please do drop me a line.)

So, I guess my advice to the single men of the 08108 is be tactful in public. If a lady wants to talk to you, wait for her to send an obvious sign. 

And to all the single ladies (all the single ladies) of Haddon Township, if you see a fella with whom you'd like to converse, send that sign.

If that invited flirtation leads to love, marriage and baby carriage, don't let your teenagers drink in the woods back near Stone Hill. Johnny Law can be stealth.