Many democratic nations have restrictions on full-face masking in public spaces, including during protests — with good reason

NYC Pro-Palestine Protest. April 22, 2024. (Photo: Pamela Drew)

France doesn’t allow it. Belgium doesn’t either.

Nor do Great Britain, Austria, Germany, Denmark, or the Netherlands. Ditto Italy, Canada, Norway, and Switzerland.

With good reason, these nations have elected to restrict full-face masking in public spaces — including during protests.

Nations enact restrictions on full-face masking during protests for a myriad of reasons.

Public Safety

Officials stress that identifying individuals involved in protests is paramount for upholding public safety and order. The use of full-face masks can obstruct law enforcement’s ability to apprehend and prosecute individuals engaging in unlawful activities during demonstrations.

This inability is a threat to the protestors as well as the public.

Security Concerns

The potential for criminal or terrorist acts to be perpetrated under the veil of anonymity provided by full-face masking during protests is dangerously real. By curbing the practice of full-face masking, security forces can more effectively monitor and thwart such illicit activities.

Preserving Public Order

The presence of masked individuals at protests can exacerbate tensions, heightening the risk of violence or vandalism. Limiting full-face masking is regarded as a strategy to alleviate these tensions and maintain peace during demonstrations.

Some of the fully masked pro-Palestine demonstrators are breaking the law under the guise of protesting. They are threatening, intimidating, and challenging students perceived to be Jewish. They are engaging in acts of vandalism, sabotage, and violence — with impunity.

Impunity means “having no fear of punishment.”

Mischief-minded protestors are fully obscuring their faces for the same reason criminals do it: To avoid criminal consequences for their actions.

Ensuring Accountability

Requiring protesters to reveal their faces enhances accountability for their actions. It empowers authorities to identify individuals involved in criminal behavior and hold them responsible for any damage or harm inflicted during protests.

Upholding Democratic Values

Some argue that the ability to protest openly while being identifiable is fundamental to democratic societies. Restrictions on full-face masking aim to strike a balance between the right to protest and the imperative of maintaining public safety and order.

Experts are starting to weigh-in on this important point.

What’s happening at Columbia is a disgrace,” fumed Jonathan Greenblatt for CNN on April 23, 2024.

Mr. Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, “went to Columbia University just uptown from my office to see for myself what is happening there.”

“Approximately 80 Jewish students from across the university came to tell their stories about their encounters with anti-Israel protesters, crowding into a room,” he revealed. “Some were crying. Some were yelling in anger. They shared individual stories, each more harrowing than the previous one.”

“Students illustrated the madness by showing me videos on their phones,” Greenblatt continued. “One depicted the assault of a Jewish classmate, an Israeli flag ripped from his hand. Another showed a Jewish student being screamed at by a fully masked individual who came right up to his face, his voice shaking with fury.”

“What I saw in Morningside Heights felt like a postcard from the future, a glimpse of what lies ahead if we don’t get our arms around this problem without delay,” Greenblatt begged. “That’s because I have seen firsthand how this situation is unfolding at numerous campuses across the country. And I’m not talking about protests — I‘m talking about sheer, unfettered rage.”

Greenblatt suggested universities like Columbia invite a law enforcement presence back onto campus. He also made an excellent point about full-face masking, which we are witnessing unprecedentedly at these protests.

Why should legitimate protestors be afraid to show their faces in public? Since they are proud of the cause they are supporting, committing no crimes, and legally exercising constitutional rights, there is no reason for full-face masking.

In the post-pandemic age, criminal agitators are bound to latch onto the public safety excuse to justify obscuring their identity. But full-face masking isn’t the same as wearing a medical mask.

“No university should permit full-face masking on their campus,” advised Greenblatt. “This would not jeopardize the health of any persons — you could wear a medical mask to prevent the spread of viruses like Covid. But entire face coverings intended to disguise an individual should not be allowed on any university environment. This is not a free speech issue. It’s a public safety imperative.”

Something must be done to mitigate the harm caused by these spiraling campus protests. Chances are, the complex situation will require more than one solution.

Universities like Columbia will likely have to take many steps to ensure institutions of higher learning remain safe for all students. Banning full-face masking would be an excellent first step.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)