In 1951, Georgia passed an anti-masking law to keep Ku Klux Klan members from committing anonymous racist violence while wearing white hoods. Now, just a week after Donald Trump won the presidential election and amid an uptick in hate crimes, a Georgia lawmaker wants to expand this law to target Muslim women.
House Bill 3, written by state Rep. Jason Spencer (R), aims to alter the language of Georgia’s anti-masking law to include women. This would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to wear any type of hood or veil — including niqabs and burqas — while driving and in public spaces, according to a report by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (Spencer withdrew the bill on Thursday. See UPDATE below.)
Currently, the law reads:
A person is guilty of a misdemeanor when he wears a mask, hood, or device by which any portion of the face is so hidden, concealed or covered as the conceal the identity of the wearer and is upon any public way or public property or upon the private property of another without the written permission of the owner or occupier of the property to do so.
Spencer, who did not return a request for comment, hopes to insert the words “or she” into the above law, expanding the restriction to Muslim women, the Journal-Constitution reported.
The bill would also add this line to the current law: “For the purposes of this subsection, the phrase ‘upon any public way or property’ includes but is not limited to operating a motor vehicle upon any public street, road, or highway.” It would also forbid Muslim women from wearing veils in government ID photos.
We have a new president, but not a new Constitution. The bill is unnecessary and unconstitutional, and we intend to oppose it if it goes forward. Edward Ahmed Mitchell, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Georgia
Local Muslims are well aware of the upcoming bill, and community leaders say they won’t allow it to move through the legislature without opposition.
“The bill is a bad solution to a nonexistent problem,” Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Georgia, told The Huffington Post. “[These Muslim women] are not endangering themselves or anyone else. We have a new president, but not a new Constitution. The bill is unnecessary and unconstitutional, and we intend to oppose it if it goes forward.”
Georgia’s proposal echoes anti-Muslim legislation in places like France, where religious veils have been banned to some extent in academic institutions, public service jobs and on beaches. But more importantly, it falls in line with the widespread targeting of Muslim women fueled by increasing Islamophobia across the country.
Muslim women have been heavily affected by hate crimes in the wake of Trump’s victory. Georgia’s CAIR office said it received reports of Muslim children being viciously bullied in schools and even a Muslim teacher receiving a note that said she should hang herself with her hijab.
“We believe that outreach works better than outrage,” Mitchell said. “We intend to reach out with an open hand. We build bridges. If that fails, and our government leaders attempt to interfere with our rights, we will defend our community by any legal means necessary.”
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UPDATE: Nov. 17 ― Spencer withdrew the bill on Thursday after what he called “visceral reaction.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said the law would target hijabs. The headscarves do not obscure a woman’s face, so it’s not clear whether hijabs would have been outlawed under the law.