ACLU Opposing Facemask Restrictions

AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

I'm sure you remember the bad old days during the pandemic when governments were making face masks mandatory in nearly all public spaces, including restaurants and on public transit. We can set aside for the moment the ugly fact that most of those masks, particularly cloth ones worn by the majority of Americans, did absolutely nothing to prevent the spread of the virus. By 2022, most of the mask requirements had been lifted. But now Chicago is leading a charge to go in the opposite direction. Lawmakers in the Windy City are currently debating new rules that would ban the public wearing of masks in certain circumstances. This has nothing to do with COVID, of course. They are concerned about the number of people wearing masks to conceal their identity during violent protests and the commission of various crimes. But you probably won't be surprised to learn that the ACLU is fighting the measure, declaring it to be some type of civil rights infringement. (CBS News)


Just four years ago, a mask requirement for indoor spaces was issued in Illinois at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and masks were still required on the Chicago Transit Authority and other mass transit as recently as the spring of 2022.

But now, there is a growing movement of lawmakers and communities who want to ban masks. Civil liberties advocates have some major concerns about that idea.

In surveillance videos of crimes being committed, the perpetrators are often wearing masks over their noses and mouths. In many cases, the coverings help hide the faces and identities of those responsible.

"They're not wearing those masks to protect themselves from COVID," said Ald. Ray Lopez (15th). "They are doing it for a very intentional reason."

Alderman Ray Lopez is trying to make it clear that he isn't seeking to entirely ban face masks. The proposed legislation would add an enhanced penalty during sentencing for anyone wearing a mask during the commission of a crime. If you are a law-abiding Chicagoan who is minding their own business, you would still be free to wear a mask if you wish.

So what are these "concerns" that the ACLU has about the proposal? One of the group's directors said that they are put off by "the broadness and breadth of a lot of these sorts of bans." He went on to say that the proposed restrictions could "unlawfully target people's right to protest anonymously."

As usual, this is a rather nonsensical argument coming from the ACLU. First of all, as noted above, this isn't a complete ban. If you are protesting peacefully, you will face no penalty for wearing a mask while doing so. (Although I would argue that the ban should definitely apply to the antisemitic pro-Hamas protests sweeping the nation.) Also, the ACLU seems to be speaking very confidently about people's "right to protest anonymously." Precisely where is that supposed right codified and defined? I went back and checked the Constitution and the word "anonymous" doesn't appear a single time in the Bill of Rights or the later amendments.


That's not to say that I'm flatly opposed to the idea of wearing a mask if you're not breaking the law. But far too many people are using them for precisely that reason in the current era. Looters are constantly masking themselves while engaging in mass retail theft. The antisemites who have been attacking Jews as we recently saw in Los Angeles were similarly masked. This doesn't make it entirely impossible to identify and prosecute them, but it does make the job of police considerably more difficult. This shouldn't be a left versus right issue. The Governor of New York is currently considering a ban on masks on public transit.

Going beyond fundamental questions of law and order, the masks allow people to potentially write themselves a pass when engaging in other bad behavior. If you are out in the public square expressing antisemitic sentiments and calling for the death of the Jews, shouldn't any potential employer you apply with have access to that information when considering your application? Masks have the potential to allow people to escape accountability for their actions in a variety of circumstances. Prior to the pandemic, most states had bans in place on the wearing of masks in public. Perhaps it's time to return to those sensible guidelines.

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