On Tuesday, Georgia state Rep. Jason Spencer proposed a bill to bar women in the state from wearing burqas, hijabs, or other forms of veiling on public property, including roads and highways, and for any public identification cards, such as driver’s licenses. By Thursday, however, the legislation had been withdrawn as a result of intense scrutiny and criticism it had received for its discriminatory tone.
Spencer’s bill did not explicitly mention Muslim women and religious veiling but rather sought to expand upon a law already on the books in Georgia aimed at members of the Ku Klux Klan by preventing them from wearing ceremonial hoods in public places and IDs for the sake of public safety. Yet the Republican politician’s bill did seek to revise the existing law by explicitly including women in the mandated ban on the public wearing of masks, hoods, or other devices that in any way cover or obscure the face. The bill, if approved, would have kept Muslim women from wearing religious veils not only while driving but also while walking on sidewalks and in parks or other public recreation areas.
“We suspect it’s motivated by a desire to discriminate against Georgia Muslims,” Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director for CAIR-Georgia, told the Washington Post. “The bill is a bad solution to a nonexistent problem.”
Aisha Yaqoob of the Georgia Muslim Voter Project told Atlanta’s ABC affiliate WSB-TV that she believed the bill was rooted in bigotry and she couldn’t understand the need for a state law that specifically targets Muslim women. The practice of veiling is one utilized by some Muslim women as a sign of modesty, in accord with their religious beliefs. (Orthodox Jewish women also often cover their hair by wearing wigs or hats because of religious standards of modesty.) Civil rights experts insist that the ability to veil — whether wearing a hijab, burqa, or other form of religious veil — is a constitutionally guaranteed right, inherent in the ability of individuals to freely and safely practice their religion.
Just last year, the Supreme Court ruled against retailer Abercrombie & Fitch after the brand had refused to hire a Muslim American woman who interviewed while wearing a hijab, insisting that the wearing of a hijab was a violation of the company’s dress code policy. The court determined that this move constituted religious discrimination.
On Wednesday, Spencer told WSB-TV, “This bill is simply a response to constituents that do have concerns of the rise of Islamic terrorism, and we in the state of Georgia do not want our laws used against us.”
Then, in a statement released the next day, Spencer adjusted his message: “While this bill does not contain language that specifically targets any group, I am mindful of the perception that it has created. 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. In conclusion, anti-masking statutes have been upheld as constitutional (State v Miller, 1990), and HB 3 would withstand legal scrutiny, but not political scrutiny.”