North Carolina Senate Revives 1950s Anti-Mask Law, Bans Masks In Public Despite Health Concerns

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North Carolina’s Senate issued a measure to ban anyone wearing masks in public, regardless of health issues. 

House Bill 237, voted on May 15, brings back a law from the 1950s that targeted hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Newsweek reports. The measure would assist police to identify protesters that law enforcement claims is expected to use “common sense” and not issue the law to arrest “Granny in the Walmart,” according to bill sponsor, Sen. Buck Newton. 

Newton says protesters are using pandemic norms and wearing masks to hide their identities. “It’s about time that the craziness is at least slowed down, if not literally stopped,” he said, according to WRAL.

During the 1950s, a number of anti-mask laws were implemented across state lines, including the Tar Heel state, in response to hate groups. Some laws are still on record today. However, in Louisiana and Minnesota, exceptions were made for religious face coverings. In Florida and California, it is an offense to wear a mask if the person commits or is intending to commit a crime. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, more extensions were made to include people wearing masks for health reasons.

But in North Carolina, with a 30-15 vote, the bill doesn’t just affect protesters. All persons will be banned from wearing masks in public—even if medical issues are pressing—if it becomes a law. While every GOP lawmaker praised the bill, every Democrat opposed it.

The measure will now have to receive approval by the state House before being sent to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who can sign or veto the bill.

Democratic lawmakers, alongside community activists and advocates for people with health issues, are concerned about the underlying consequences of the proposal. They also feel as if safety issues aren’t the real issue behind the bill.

“This bill is clearly in response to the recent protests on college campuses against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza,” Melissa Price Kromm, executive director of the grassroots group NC for the People Action, said. “Thus, it is another anti-protest bill.”

In early May 2024, demonstrations were seen during commencement ceremonies at both UNC Chapel Hill, where pro-Palestinian protesters removed an American flag, and Duke University, who walked out on speaker, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, due to his support of Israel. Several protests on college campuses across the country have seen the mistreatment of protestors and police officers deliberately unmasking them. 

Police are unmasking the Pro-Hamas protestors at UCLA pic.twitter.com/q1Hm9fEnd2

— Proud Elephant (@ProudElephantUS) May 2, 2024

Sen. Lisa Grafstein (D-Wake) called the bill “unconscionable.” Cancer survivor Sen. Sydney Batch said people that wear masks around her were vital during her medical treatment as her immune system was highly compromised. “Someone walking around with tuberculosis, wants to wear a mask to protect everybody else is no longer able to do that based on this bill,” she said.

GOP Sen. Danny Britt thinks there’s a way to interpret the legislation, arguing it would still be legal to wear a mask for legitimate health reasons. Sen. Natasha Marcus, representing Mecklenburg county, home to Charlotte, isn’t convinced.

“Is it really that you find masked chemo patients that threatening? Something about them makes you really angry?” Marcus asked. “Or is this, more likely, a desire to score some political points with the anti-mask crowd during an election year, at the expense of vulnerable people?”

RELATED CONTENT: Are Masks Really Working Against The Spread Of Viruses?

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