The floodgates seem to have opened on hateful state legislation since Donald Trump’s election. A few days after a Texas state legislator filed a bill to overturn municipal anti-discrimination laws, a Georgia lawmaker tried to call for Muslim head coverings to be banned in certain public places.
State Rep. Jason Spencer filed House Bill 3, which would modify the state’s “anti-masking” law. The law, which bans men from wearing face-masks or hoods while driving, would be changed to include women.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in its analysis of the bill that, due to vague wording, the law could potential make the wearing of traditional Muslim clothing illegal on all public property, not just when driving.
After a fierce backlash, Spencer released a statement Thursday afternoon saying that he was withdrawing his sponsorship of the bill:
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.
Anti-masking laws are common in states that have had historical problems with the Ku Klux Klan. Using a law intended to fight a racist group to persecute a religious minority might be ironic if it weren’t so sinister.
And if there’s any doubts that the law is targeting Muslim women, Rep. Spencer removed them in comments that he made to local TV station WSB-TV.
“This bill is simply a response to constituents that do have concerns about the rise of Islamic terrorism. and we in the state of Georgia don’t want our laws used against us,” he said.
He did not elaborate on how the bill helps fight Islamic terrorism, but the Journal-Constitution noted that there already are rules in effect requiring a person’s face to be visible in drivers’ license photos—meaning that there’s no need for a major part of Spencer’s bill.
Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams wasn’t shy about the racist implications of the bill, calling it “a direct result of the rhetoric we heard during Donald Trump’s Islamophobic presidential campaign” in comments to the Journal-Constitution.
Spencer also said he was concerned about automobile safety, as head coverings have the potential to block someone’s vision while they are driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not appear to track statistics for accidents caused by veils, burkas, or niqabs, so maybe he has uncovered a drastic threat to public safety that literally no one else is concerned about.
Note: The headline and body of this post were updated after Spencer withdrew his bill.