No Good Deed Goes Unpunished — Especially by the Government

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This article is part of a series focusing on Lens of Liberty, a project of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation.

Helen Krieble’s Liberty Minute titled “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” tells the story of two innocent citizens who ended up having to pay a steep fine when they were just trying to help a friend out:

A couple stopped to pick up a carpool friend who wasn’t ready yet. So they decided to drive around the block a few times while they waited. They were pulled over and discovered, with a hefty ticket, that it’s against the law in their town to pass the same point, in the same direction more than three times in three hours.

Whether you’re waiting for someone or just plain lost doesn’t matter. Someone decided circling the block is a threat to public safety. But the freedom to move around as we choose is an essential American liberty. This couple didn’t do anything wrong but became victims of an unnecessary law. It’s time for city councils across the country to take a new look at their laws through the lens of liberty.

This brings to mind a similar story recently in the news of the government making it difficult for people to do a good deed. In Tucson, what began as a student’s kind-hearted offer to provide the homeless with free haircuts quickly escalated into threats of imprisonment.

When Juan Carlos Montes de Oca, a student of cosmetology, heard about a man who served London’s homeless on his days off, he was inspired to do the same in his own hometown. He set out to give them free haircuts so that they could look clean-cut at job interviews, saying he decided to do this, “Out of the kindness of my heart. Out of the memory of my mom, because she lost her hair.”

Montes de Oca’s generosity was promptly halted, however, when the Arizona State Board of Cosmetology received an anonymous complaint that he was asking other stylists to help him provide haircuts. The board responded by demanding that Montes de Oca immediately stop giving free haircuts. If he did not comply, the board threatened him with fines and six months in jail, justifying its action by claiming he was putting people in “real risk” by cutting their hair without a license.

The board requires anyone who wants to cut hair in their state to complete 1,000 hours of training at a state-licensed school, which can cost up to $10,000, and obtain the government’s permission. Arizona’s ban on unlicensed cosmetology applies to everyone — even a mother cutting her own child’s hair.

Montes de Oca was unaware of these regulations and now worries his good deed could cost him his career in cosmetology if the board decides to refuse him a license. Luckily, Montes de Oca lives in a state with a sympathetic Republican governor. When Arizona Governor Doug Ducey heard what was going on, he stepped in to intervene on Montes de Oca’s behalf.

In his State of the State address on Tuesday, Ducey pointed out how ridiculous it is that the cosmetology board is requiring Montes de Oca to undergo “25 weeks [of training], more than an EMT, certified nursing assistant or truck driver” just to give out free haircuts. Calling the state cosmetology board “bullies” for trying to stall Montes de Oca’s career “because he hadn’t yet kissed their ring,” Ducey gave words of encouragement to the young cosmetology student: “Juan Carlos, you go ahead and keep cutting hair and keep doing the right thing.”

Montes de Oca is grateful that he has received the governor’s approval to continue serving Tucson’s homeless. However, all around the country there is no shortage of similar stories of governments imposing unnecessary, absurd rules that keep people from doing the right thing. Krieble couldn’t have put it better when she said, “No good deed goes unpunished.”


Terry Schilling

Terry Schilling is executive director of the American Principles Project.