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Federal suit filed against Chicago mask ban

Federal suit filed against Chicago mask ban
Federal suit filed against Chicago mask ban

January 24, 2001

Bandana-wearing protesters and veil-shrouded Muslims joined forces Tuesday in an unusual alliance to challenge an obscure Chicago ordinance that actually bans people from wearing masks in public.

They and others filed a federal lawsuit, seeking class action status, against the city challenging the 1922 ordinance, saying it violates their freedom of speech and religion.

The city ordinance, which runs less than 100 words, bans anyone from appearing in public with a "mask, cap, cowl, hood or other thing concealing the identity of the wearer." The city's law department couldn't pinpoint the reason behind its passage. But officials speculated the ordinance may have been aimed at keeping the Ku Klux Klan out of the city during the group's heyday.

As for kids going trick-or-treating or swells attending a costume charity ball, they have nothing to fear. The anti-mask ordinance provides exceptions for entertainment. A written permit from the mayor also works, the ordinance states.

But activists who regularly attend protests wearing bandanas, Palestinians wearing the kaffiyah, a type of scarf, or Muslim women who don the niqaab, a type of veil, argue the ordinance is too broad and could hurt them and others.

Even people with their faces bundled in scarves to ward off the Chicago winds would be in violation, say attorneys Edward Voci and Nancy Gerrity, who filed the suit.

The lawyers suggested the law is enforced selectively to target political protesters.

Nine protesters complaining of child labor abuses were arrested last September at a peaceful demonstration in front of the Nike store on North Michigan Avenue after Chicago police officers told them to remove their masks, and they didn't.

"It's just ridiculous," said Rachel Fisher, 22, one of the arrested protesters who is part of the lawsuit. The charges against eight protesters are pending, while one was dropped, attorneys said.

In light of the lawsuit, the city's law department will review whether the ordinance still needs to be on the books, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

"It doesn't seem to us that it is enforced that frequently," said spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle, stressing the department needs to study the issue.



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