NC Senate Advances Sweeping Public Mask Ban

( – Lawmakers in North Carolina’s Senate have passed a bill that repeals a law allowing the use of masks in public. The law allowed people to wear face masks ostensibly in order to reduce transmission of viruses, but Republicans say those masks are now being used and abused to people seeking to do wrong.

The call for repeal comes after anti-Israel protests on college campuses across the country have featured large numbers of people covering their faces. While some have covered their faces with scarves and symbolic keffiyehs, many have used disposable face masks. Many of these protests have involved protestors blocking roads, damaging property, harassing and even allegedly assaulting people.

House Bill 237 also takes aim at protestors blocking the emergency services or roads, further criminalizing both actions. Proponents of the law have argued that it is needed in order to address the “craziness” of the campus protests, and that it was no longer needed as a pandemic-related measure. Critics of the bill have expressed fears that the bill will criminalize people who wish to wear masks due to health concerns. One woman, describing herself as immunocompromised, spoke about her experiences of being harassed due to wearing a mask in public and asked lawmakers not to pass the legislation as it stood.

Critics have also slated the lack of an explicit health exemption to what could effectively become a ban on face masks, although Republican lawmakers argued that law enforcement would be able to use discretion in cases of health concerns. Three Democratic senators did try to include a health exemption to the bill, but this was blocked by Republicans.

The vote fell down a party line, with Republicans for and Democrats against. The bill seeks to repeal legislation which itself was an amendment to a long-standing ban on public masks. North Carolina reportedly introduced a rule against wearing a mask in public as a way to clamp down on the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in 1953.

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