A member of legislative leadership, in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, is aiming to ban protesters from wearing masks.
House Bill 1304 prime sponsor Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said the purpose of bills such as his are to give law enforcement clear direction on handling of protests.
“That’s not a peaceful protest,” Carlson said of protesters wearing masks during demonstrations. “It might be legal in Baghdad but not in Bismarck.”
HB1304 would bar people from wearing a mask or hood that covers part or all of the face when in a public area, such as a road or highway. It would also ban use of coverings for a person’s face while at a demonstration or rally on private property without written permission.
Throughout the months of protests, some of the opponents of the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline have worn masks to shield their identities whether at construction sites or around the Bismarck-Mandan area.
A number of exemptions are included in HB1304 for masks and coverings. These include for religious purposes, for theatrical productions, sporting events, parades, civil defense drills and protection from severe weather.
A violation under HB1304 would result in a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment, a $3,000 fine or both.
Carlson said he believes there would be strong support among fellow lawmakers for the anti-mask law.
Such laws date back to the late 19th century and early 20th century, when a number of states, particularly in the South, passed anti-mask legislation in response to the Ku Klux Klan.
Jennifer Cook, policy director for ACLU of North Dakota, said the organization opposes HB1304 on First Amendment grounds.
“The fact that they have exemptions shows a speech restriction based on content,” Cook said. “It’s also concerning that this bill is directed to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Wearing a mask during a protest, that’s not a criminal activity.”
She also questioned how enforcement of such a measure would work, adding that it could lead to instances of racial profiling by law enforcement.
Cook also said a number of protesters, for example, may be allowed at times to use face masks for various reasons, which might include protection against blowing dust on windy days.