Religion

Georgia Lawmaker Drops Proposed Ban On Niqabs

| by Robert Fowler

While many American Muslims express concern over the election of President-elect Trump, one Georgia lawmaker proposed legislation that would outlaw the wearing of niqabs or burqas in public spaces. He has since rescinded the bill.

On Nov. 15, Republican state Rep. Jason Spencer filed House Bill 3, a piece of legislation that would be up for consideration in the state’s 2017 session. The bill would have tweaked a law originally created to ban the wearing of Ku Klux Klan hoods half a century ago, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

The original law forbid men from concealing their faces with a mask. It was meant to discourage KKK members from carrying out white supremacist crimes in anonymity. Spencer’s bill would have changed the law to also apply to women.

The Georgia lawmaker said the bill was intended to discourage women from driving on public roads with their vision obstructed, but the language of the legislation would have applied to any public space.

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“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,” the legislation read.

By not limiting the ban to the confines of a motor vehicle, the bill could have resulted in Muslim women facing misdemeanor charges for wearing a face-covering niqab or burqa in any public area in Georgia.

The hijab is a traditional headscarf that conceals a woman’s hair. The niqab is a veil that obscures her face but has a slit so she can see. A burqa looks similar to a niqab, but is a single piece of cloth and is looser over the shoulders. Some traditionalist Muslim women wear a headscarf or veil to convey their religious faith in public, according to The New York Times.

Spencer’s proposed legislation was met with outrage by local Muslims. Executive director Edward Ahmed Mitchell of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Georgia stated that the election of Trump did not mean that state lawmakers could begin restricting religious liberty.

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“We have a new president, but not a new Constitution,” Mitchell told The Huffington Post. “The bill is unnecessary and unconstitutional, and we intend to oppose it if it goes forward.”

That will not be necessary. On Nov. 17, Spencer announced that he would be withdrawing the bill after receiving numerous complaints from local constituents, WSB-TV reports.

“While this bill does not contain language that specifically targets any group, I am mindful of the perception that it has created,” Spencer said. “My objective was to address radical elements that could pose a threat to public safety. However, further consideration dictates that other solutions will need to be considered.”

Aisha Yaqoob of the Georgia Voter Project said she was alarmed that a state lawmaker would even propose such a bill in the first place.

“I don’t see the need for a law that specifically targets Muslim women,” Yaqoob said. “It’s frustrating. I was hoping not to have an issue like this come up so soon.”

Since the Nov. 8 election, Muslim women have been expressing their anxiety for Trump’s victory on social media. Several have vowed not to be intimidated out of expressing their religious faith, Bustle reports.

“I am not going to take off my hijab, I’m just going to tie it tighter,” tweeted out one user. “I’m not going to sacrifice a part of me to adhere to your ignorance.”

“I am proud to be Muslim,” tweeted out another user. “I am proud to wear a hijab. I may be scared for my safety but I will not let myself fear [Trump].”

Sources: BustleThe Huffington Post, The New York Times, WSB-TV / Photo credit: Michal Huniewicz/Flickr

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