A Student Wearing Traditional Muslim Clothing Is Challenged by a Georgia Anti-Mask Law

A Georgia State University freshman’s desire to wear a niqab in class set off some controversy recently when one of her teachers asked her to remove it because it violates state law. According to a story in the Georgia State Signal, Nabila Khan, who is Muslim, regularly wears a niqab when in public. The niqab is a type of scarf that hides all but the wearer’s eyes, similar to a hijab or burka. She was asked by her teacher, whose name is not provided in the story, to remove the head covering because it is against a Georgia law that forbids wearing masks except on certain holidays, or if medically necessary. The anti-mask law was enacted 60 years ago as an effort to stem the activities of the Ku Klux Klan.

Khan refused to remove the niqab, saying to do so would violate her right to freely exercise her religious beliefs. The teacher withdrew the request and deferred to the Georgia State administration after Khan indicated she would contact a lawyer and school officials. GSU and University System officials confirmed that there was no policy regarding veils, which are permitted as a religious accommodation.

The inherent conflict between someone wanting to practice their religion and laws designed to preserve an orderly society is at the heart of the debate over religious freedom bills like the one introduced by State Senator Josh McKoon of Columbus, who was quoted in the Signal story.

“The government must demonstrate a compelling state interest and show the policy at issue is the least restrictive means of achieving that state interest when challenged on a free exercise basis,” he told The Signal, adding that his “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act” from last year could have worked in Khan’s favor, were it passed.

“My bill, Senate Bill 129, would have mandated a heightened standard of review in the case you mentioned, and while I cannot state with certainty the student would have prevailed, she would have been given stronger legal ground upon which to make a challenge,” he said.

Many Gold Dome watchers expect similar religious freedom bills to be introduced in the upcoming legislative session. State Senator Vincent Fort of Atlanta indicated he might be willing to introduce an amendment to the anti-mask law to provide a religious exemption, noting that an effort to modify the law was tried in 2000 but failed. Edward Mitchell, president of the Georgia chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, is concerned about potential blowback from anti-Muslim groups should there by an attempt to change the law. He is in favor of leaving the law as it is, as long as it isn’t strictly enforced.

For her part, Khan is happy that, de facto, her First Amendment right to practice her religion hasn’t been restricted. She told the Signal that she would prefer not to have to take any action “because my religion teaches us to be forgiving and understanding.”

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blakeage80
blakeage80

There is so much irony in this story. Culturally ignorant Democrats passing short-sighted laws against masks, Muslims able to freely practice their religion in public, Sen. McKoon vindicated. LOL.

Enjoy the Silence
Enjoy the Silence

I fail to see how Sen. McKoon was vindicated. The student retained her right to practice her religious beliefs without a RFRA, without instigating any litigation, and it seems, without having to file a formal complaint. University spokeswoman Andrea Jones told The Signal, “The university is public property, and we permit face veils as religious accommodation. There is nothing in the code of conduct that specifically addresses face covering,” she said. Sonja Roberts, a spokeswoman for the University System of Georgia, backed the school’s stance. That tells me that the problem was solved without a RFRA, quickly, based upon the… Read more »

blakeage80
blakeage80

The school’s policies don’t trump State law. She is not in court because the law wasn’t enforced. A RFRA could be used as a mass update to such laws as the anti-mask law so that this niqab wouldn’t be an issue. Don’t miss a chance to celebrate religious liberty because you hate Josh McKoon.

Enjoy the Silence
Enjoy the Silence

No offense. I actually like Sen. McKoon as a person and a lot of his political stances. So don’t assume that I hate him. He is a very good person, I think.

Also, State Law doesn’t trump the First Amendment. The school is applying the First Amendment in enacting its policy.

Ellynn
Ellynn

Or we change the law about masks to allow religious exceptions instead of adding a new law that increases the over-reaching arms of government…

Benevolus
Benevolus

Well I was wondering how this works relative to Halloween masks, or dust masks, etc, so I did a little Googling:

” In 1990, the Georgia Supreme Court in State v. Miller, 260 Ga. 669, 674, 398 S.E.2d 547, 552 (1990) upheld the statute against a First Amendment challenge ….the court required the mask-wearer to have intent to conceal his identity and further that the statute would “apply only to mask-wearing conduct when the mask-wearer knows or reasonably should know that the conduct provokes a reasonable apprehension of intimidation, threats or violence.”

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/conlaw/2015/07/anti-masking-laws-the-ku-klux-klan-and-the-first-amendment.html

MattMD_actual
MattMD_actual

I would feel uncomfortable with someone completely covering their face, I don’t care what their reasons might be.

Why does this form of Islam get a pass on their suppression of women? Why is it ok to cover someone in a bedsheet in public in the name of a religion?

Ellynn
Ellynn

Who says it gets a pass? You think conservative Islam is alone in suppressing what a women can or can not wear, do and not do, say and not say? Why can’t Pentecostal women wear pants? Why does my oldest friend have to have permission from her Pentecostal pastor and husband to talk to me (I was judged to be a good influence on her in the past, so I’m allowed to visit her if her husband is along to make share I don’t say anything too Catholic like). Why do Fundamentalist Mormons dress their wives like cast members of… Read more »

Benevolus
Benevolus

“How many of you have ever been in a church and seen a women walk in and think ” I can’t believe she wore “that” into a church. When was the last time you had the same thoughts over what I guy wears to Sunday Service?”

Well, actually we went to Al Green’s church in Memphis a couple of weeks ago, and I did have those thoughts, but aside from that, you make an excellent point.

CoastalCat
CoastalCat

The same reason ultra-Orthodox Jewish wives are treated as prisoners in their homes and Catholic cloistered nuns wear veils and habits. As long as the woman has a choice in the matter, outside opinions do not matter.

Ellynn
Ellynn

Posted in the wrong comment area… See above.