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Is it Illegal to Wear a Face Mask in Georgia During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Are you breaking the law by wearing a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic? Is it actually illegal to appear in public wearing a face mask in Georgia? Up until recently, yes, it was actually against the law to wear a mask in public, though many were not aware of this.

According to the International Center for Non-for-Profit Law, at least 18 states and Washington, D.C., have laws that make it illegal to wear masks or any face coverings. While some of these states have a general ban on wearing face masks in public, others make it illegal to wear face masks with the intent to commit a crime or deprive another person of their constitutional rights.

Georgia was among those 18 states up until recently. Many of the states, including Georgia, enacted face mask bans to combat the Ku Klux Klan.

Previously, we discussed whether it is a crime to infect other people with coronavirus.

Gov. Kemp Suspends Georgia’s Anti-Mask Law

On April 14, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp suspended the state’s anti-mask law during the coronavirus pandemic because it made it more difficult to follow guidelines on masks recommended by federal health authorities, according to FOX 5 Atlanta.

The law, which dates back to 1951, makes it a misdemeanor for people to conceal their identities while being on public property. According to O.C.G.A. 16-11-38, Georgians could face a misdemeanor charge for wearing masks, hoods, or any other coverings or devices by which any part of the wearer’s face was hidden or covered to conceal the identity.

Georgia’s anti-mask law prohibited wearing facial coverings upon:

  • Any public way;
  • Public property; and
  • Private property of another person without the owner or occupier’s written permission to wear the mask.

Over the decades, the state’s anti-mask law has been used to prevent public wearing of Ku Klux Klan hoods and to target KKK demonstrations. However, the law was also used to arrest opponents of white power groups in Georgia, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In fact, Georgia’s anti-mask law was cited just two years ago when several demonstrators were arrested for wearing facial coverings while protesting a neo-Nazi rally.

Black People Targeted by Police for Wearing Face Masks

During the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials and human rights advocates have raised concerns that the anti-mask law could be used against those who are using face masks to protect themselves against coronavirus. In fact, multiple reports surfaced across the country showing that black people were being targeted by police and were getting kicked out of grocery stores for wearing masks.

For instance, as reported by The Washington Post, two young black men said they were racially profiled by police for wearing masks while shopping at Walmart in Illinois. Sen. Nikema Williams of Atlanta urged Gov. Kemp to suspend the anti-mask law. Williams, who heads the Georgia Democratic Party, warned the governor that racial profiling by police could “get worse for people of color who wear homemade cloth coverings.” In a letter to Kemp, Williams said the law could have negative consequences amidst the pandemic, especially on the African American community.

After signing the executive order, which makes face masks exempt from the law, Kemp said the exemption would allow Georgians to follow the guidelines on masks “without fear of prosecution.”

If you are still being targeted by police or getting kicked out of stores or other places for wearing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, do not hesitate to speak with our Atlanta criminal defense attorney. Contact our results-driven lawyers at Ghanayem & Rayasam, LLC, by calling at (404) 561-0202 or completing your contact form below.