As mask mandates are lifted some states are grappling with longstanding mask bans that were aimed at the Ku Klux Klan

  • Before COVID-19, 18 states had anti-mask laws, most of which were adopted in response to the KKK. 
  • Several states repealed or waived their bans at the start of the pandemic. 
  • As mask mandates expire, some states are weighing how to address the longstanding laws. 
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As coronavirus mask mandates are lifting, some states are weighing how to address longstanding mask bans, many of which were passed in response to the Ku Klux Klan, The New York Times reported. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than a dozen states had laws banning masks that concealed the wearer’s identity, many enacted primarily as a way to deter the KKK, a white supremacist hate group. Now that nixing mask mandates will reinstate those laws, some states are trying to figure out how to allow people to continue wearing masks if they want to for health reasons.

At least 18 states had anti-mask laws that dated prior to the pandemic as of November 2020, according to the California Law Review.

Georgia waived its anti-mask law at the beginning of the pandemic to allow for masks in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the Associated Press reported.

New York, which had the oldest anti-mask law dating back to 1845, repealed their law in May 2020.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s Office said in April 2020 that the state’s 71-year-old anti-mask law would not be applied to those covering their nose and mouth due to the pandemic, AL.com reported. 

However, states that paused or waived enforcement of masks bans for the pandemic are still working for ways to ensure they can’t be enforced as the public health crisis wanes.

In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam is looking at ways to make sure the state’s mask ban from 1950, which included an exemption for a public health emergency, doesn’t prevent people from wearing masks, The Times reported. Virginia’s state-of-emergency declaration expires at the end of June, at which time the mask ban will be reinstated.

Rob Kahn, a law professor at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis, told The Times it may be difficult for states to repeal the mandates now that mask-wearing has become so politicized. 

“I definitely think there will continue to be a difference of opinion, a divergence over masks,” Mr. Kahn said. “But hopefully the conflicts that come up will be resolved peacefully.”

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