Sunday, October 27, 2013
In some states, the statutes are known as anti-Klan statutes, although by their terms they do not limit their coverage to Klan regalia. The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the state's anti-masking statute, O.C.G.A. 16-11-38, against a First Amendment challenge in State v. Miller (1990). Shade Miller, who was arrested for appearing in KKK regalia alone near the courthouse in Gwinnet County, purportedly to protest the anti-mask statute, argued that the statute was overbroad. In addressing Miller’s argument, the court interpreted the statute narrowly, but not so narrowly as to exclude the KKK. Instead, 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.”
Considering New York's anti-masking statute - - - one that has its roots not in Klan activities but was first passed in 1845 and directed at a widespread resistance to farming rents assessed by large estate owners, known as the anti-rent riots - - - the Second Circuit in 2004 similarly upheld the statute against a First Amendment challenge in Church of American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan v. Kerik. The KKK group had sought an injunction against the statute to allow a demonstration while wearing masks. Rejecting the First Amendment claim, the court agreed that the KKK regalia - - - the robe, hood, and mask - - - met the threshold requirement for expressive speech, but nevertheless separated the mask in its analysis. In the court’s view, the mask was “redundant” and did “not convey a message independently of the robe and hood.” Moreover, the court opined that mask-wearing was not integral to the expression, but optional even amongst KKK members.
Not limited to the KKK, the anti-masking statute was used in prosecutions of Occupy Wall Street protestors.
But surely, these statutes do not apply on Halloween?
The Georgia statute has a specific exemption for "A person wearing a traditional holiday costume on the occasion of the holiday," while the New York statute does not apply "when it occurs in connection with a masquerade party or like entertainment if, when such entertainment is held in a city which has promulgated regulations in connection with such affairs, permission is first obtained from the police or other appropriate authorities."
In Louisiana, the statutory exemption for "activities of children on Halloween," and other events such as Mardi Gras, has its own exception for any "person convicted of or who pleads guilty to a sex offense."
Wearing a mask on Halloween may be traditional, but it may not be constitutionally protected.