Florida (and other states) mask law: a legal perspective

Discussion in 'Projects' started by x-9er, Feb 4, 2008.

  1. x-9er Member

    Florida (and other states) mask law: a legal perspective

    I hate to continue opening this can of worms but it's an important issue that is worth confronting.

    For the TL;DR crowd: the Supreme Court of Florida has found laws banning the wearing of masks in public to be a violation of free expression and privacy.

    For the "O RLY" crowd:

    Robinson v. State (1980) is a Florida Supreme Court case in which a man was arrested for wearing a mask in public, in violation of the state's anti-mask law. He contested the constitutionality of the law in his county court; the court refused to rule on this, and so he pled no contest in order to retain his right to appeal.

    The Supreme Court decision (opinion written by Justice Boyd) was as follows (truncated to the important stuff):

    Section 876.16 is the "exemptions" section which permitted Gasparilla, Halloween, etc masks. In response, the Florida Legislature amended 876.15 with 876.155, an "applicability" rule:

    The U.S. Supreme Court has so far denied cert to cases dealing with anti-mask legislation. Thus the constitutionality of state laws remain under the decisions of those states' courts; California (Ghafari v. San Francisco) has a similar decision protecting the wearing of masks in public, but the only one that protects masks as a form of symbolic speech is Aryan v. Mackey in which the Texas SC found Iranian students wearing masks to protest (unimportant; they were protesting Iranian politics) were doing so as a form of symbolic speech.

    On the other hand, state courts in other jurisdictions have found anti-mask laws constitutional; among these are Virginia, Georgia, and Tennessee. I'm sure there are others, but I don't have the time to write a full brief on this issue.

    I am told that inquiries to the Clearwater police were met with responses that masks were illegal and those wearing them would be arrested. This would, from both my and the ACLU's perspective, be a severe violation of constitutionally-protected civil rights. I'm also fully aware that Anonymous is currently planning NOT to wear masks. That's fine. Anonymous is, under all circumstances, free to decide in what ways Anonymous wishes to exercise its constitutionally-protected civil rights.

    Yet if we feel this is an exercise of rights in order to promote a moral ideal -- and given the target of our protest, it most certainly is -- we ought to consider the gestalt of this massive worldwide action; in other words, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere (to quote Dr. King). I understand that antagonizing police is a very bad idea, and I don't encourage it. Yet we have a responsibility as those exercising our right to assemble and speak freely to ensure those rights are not illegally infringed upon; if we believe this goes above and beyond Anonymous, our actions thus set a precedent for those who would come after in whatever manner they plan to protest, and to whatever idea they aim to combat.
  2. x-9er Member

    Bumping, and also begging for any information regarding the Clearwater police's alleged restriction on masks. I am told an individual (I don't know who) contacted them and was told that masks are illegal. This statement, itself, is illegal -- law enforcement officers cannot misrepresent the codified laws of the Florida Statutes.

    Please reply or PM if you know what the story is with this. I am of no opinion regarding the utility of masks in our public assembly, but if police are illegally restricting this specific First Amendment right, it's quite possible they will be restricting others.
  3. anonEmouser Member

    I would go as far as to assume the Clearwater police would be everything short of hostile to the protesters.

    I can appreciate the legal argument, but to challenge the mask law has two problems with it:

    1) a mass-arrest/citation because of it would be HORRIBLE PR and hurt the movement--showing the cops the judicial ruling would have all the effect of "thats nice. Tell it to the judge and you might get off then. Watch your head."

    2) Whoever challenges the law may win, but it would probably take years of legal battles--at the very least, it would be of great nuisance to them.

    I hate having rights trampled needlessly, but I can't see how trying to exercise them helps us in this case. We have a greater goal here; this won't help it.
  4. x-9er Member

    I see what you're saying, but this isn't a grey area that's open to interpretation. Both the statute and the court opinion are explicit in their protection of this right, and for Clearwater police to somehow assert their own kind of maverick justice is not only an egregious offense but the very sort of thing we are protesting in the first place.

    That's why it's so important that Clearwater police be informed of the law, if for some bizarre reason they are not even aware of the very laws they are charged with enforcing. It is easy for them to plead ignorance and make amends later; if they identify prior restraint a significant windfall financial judgment would be headed toward those to whom the police misrepresented the law. Given the specificity of Robinson, it is even reasonable to assume an immediate summary judgment (as Robinson is a Florida Supreme Court decision, only one body can address its terms: the United States Supreme Court).

    Put more simply, take a woman who chooses to wear a head veil for modesty, a practice found in several cultures. This is constitutionally-protected. The law cannot be selectively-applied to anyone on the grounds of public speech content; in Padgett's words, "blanket prohibitions forbidding mask-wearing are not acceptable under the First Amendment."

    Of course, Florida is the state where Freeman happened; the appellate court found she could not be compelled to remove her mask in public, but that (paraphrasing) driving is a privilege, public safety in the operation of a motor vehicle, jurisdiction of the DMV.


    Interesting article regarding the intersection of online Anonymity, its transition to meeting IRL, and the value of masks in protecting those engaged in public speech from retaliation by groups that aim to intimidate or harass (frighteningly relevant here)

    It should be noted that several Florida jurisdictions have consistently ignored the presence of 876.155 in threatening Halloween mask-wearers. I believe 876.155 (the law restricting application of the mask statute to, essentially, the KKK) was passed by the Florida Legislature in 1992 or 1993, but I haven't gained access to those years of proceedings yet.

    Edit: 876.155 was passed in 1981, which makes sense given the Robinson decision in 1980. It was, as I had assumed, a response to that decision rendering the anti-mask law overly broad.

    TL;DR: MASKS ARE LEGAL IN FLORIDA. I am not advocating them, just asserting that they very much are legal and it seems a great number of our law enforcement agencies are not familiar with the very laws they are tasked to enforce.
  5. stand up for your right to keep your masks on!

    leave the raid early in handcuffs and keep that damn mask on until the ACLU sends a lawyer to your jail cell tuesday morning if you have to!

    in the end, everyone will know you were right all along. [everyone still paying attention 3 months later when your lawsuit (masks vs police) is over]
  6. x-9er Member

    How many times do I have to repeat myself?


    Thus, all the entries, comments, et cetera about masks being illegal in Florida are wrong on their face, and we shouldn't be spreading that around. If any law enforcement officer or other authority figure informed you they are illegal, I need to know who that person is ASAP.

    This is not some new law, people. Masks have been legal to wear in the state of Florida (when not being used in the commission of a crime or the act of a Klan rally) since 1981.
  7. Re: Florida (and other states) mask law: a legal perspective

    Wearing "V for Vendetta" masks are illegal?

    Fort Lauderdale Cops think it's illegal for citizens to wear masks on public property. They tell a person he's not allowed to wear his "V for Vendetta" mask.

  8. anonymous612 Member

    Re: Florida (and other states) mask law: a legal perspective

    So? Quote the law, tell them they're wrong. It very explicitly allows them.

  9. Anonymous Member

    Re: Florida (and other states) mask law: a legal perspective

    Wow epic thread necro is epic.
  10. grebe Member

    Re: Florida (and other states) mask law: a legal perspective

    The dramatic music seems unnecessary.
  11. Anonymous Member

    Re: Florida (and other states) mask law: a legal perspective

    Curiously I saw no V for Vendetta mask in that footage. What I did see was an American flag and a folded in half circa 2008 Ron Paul for President sign at 0:37.
  12. Anonymous Member

    Re: Florida (and other states) mask law: a legal perspective

    FreedomBogeys on your tail FreedomMaverick! Pull up! Pull up!
  13. Utenhauzen Member

    Re: Florida (and other states) mask law: a legal perspective

    It says wearing masks is ok if it's symbolic of speech right?
    Well, just say the mask is a 'symbol of rebellion against injustice'
    like in the movie. I doubt you'd need to worry too much about it. I find that
    the police down here are either busy with bigger crimes like homicides or pulling people over for traffic violations.
    If you are clearly acting in good intentions and not raising hell, I think they should leave you alone
    about masks.
  14. anonymous612 Member

    Re: Florida (and other states) mask law: a legal perspective

    No. Unnecessary. You don't need to be protesting etc anything to wear a mask in Florida; you don't need a reason at all.

    Basically as long as you aren't 1) using it to deprive others of their rights, 2) using it to harass people who are exercising their rights (eg Scientologists can't use masks to intimidate us into not protesting; the KKK can't use hoods to scare blacks into not voting, etc), 3) using it to harass or threaten others in general, or 4) using it to keep your identity secret while committing a crime (eg ski masks in a bank robbery), you can wear a mask, period.

    The problem is, the law is basically written "You can't wear a mask here here here here here and here...and oh by the way that only applies if you're doing illegal stuff." So a lot of times law enforcement either doesn't know or doesn't remember that last part, which is why you bring a printout of the laws with you when masked. I have had cops quote the law directly at us and tell us we can't wear masks and we'll have to take them off, only to read my printout and completely change their mind and go "oh, I guess it's legal after all."

    Just make sure you're on public property, and don't do anything stupid, and you should be fine. You don't need an excuse to wear it. Even just "I woke up this morning and felt like wearing a mask" is legal in Florida.
  15. Chiogavf Member

    I know this is an old thread. I am not trying to rehash old items. But to find infomation on a related, fairly new topic. The public library in Austin Texas bans the wearing of hoodies, sunglasses, hats, and baseball caps on is premises (well, inside, at least).

    I mean: Baseball caps? I think the reason for the library policy (note I do not think it is a law) is so that security cameras can i.d. you.

    If I am wearing a baseball cap, I have to take it off or turn it around and wear it backwards. I feel this policy is stupid and am concerned that my constitutional rights are being violated -- especially if this is just a library policy and not a state or municipal law. Or again, even if it were a law...

    So, has anyone any comments? Or can direct me for more information? Also, I have written the ALCU about this.
  16. anonymous612 Member

    ^Responded in PM.

    And while I'm here I'll clarify/update the OP.

    We are allowed to wear masks in Clearwater. We are always allowed to wear masks in Clearwater. To my knowledge we have always been allowed to wear masks in Clearwater. Our very first contact at the police department TOLD us we should wear masks to hide our identities. I have never seen or heard of a Clearwater PD officer trying to convince someone they can't wear a mask. If you come to Clearwater, do not think you aren't allowed to wear them or you'll get harassed if you do, because you won't.

    That being said, we've noticed a much more uncooperative approach from places in Florida with fewer protests. The Ocala police had to be convinced it was legal (with a printout of the mask law, ahem), the Orlando police had to be shamed into it by the media, and we'll have to have a couple more protests worth of arguing it with the Tampa PD before they come around (last time we compromised and agreed to stop yelling if we could put the masks back on, but we didn't have a copy of the mask laws with us AHEM). Be prepared for similar results elsewhere in Florida.
  17. The Cove Member

  18. anonymous612 Member

    Specifically for the Florida law: We have had it clarified by law enforcement. If you notice the wording, it states "With the INTENT to intimidate." Scientologists can't see you and go "OMG THEY'RE INTIMIDATING ME." To quote the police, "It has to be an overt, intentional act." Don't go sprinting after a Scientologist like you're a lion hunting a wounded gazelle.

    EDIT: And re: that video, freedom of expression and the ability to wear a mask are not connected. And you of course can't wear it on private property. And the dumbass should have had the good sense to look up the laws before he wore it and he would have saved himself a lot of trouble.
  19. DJ3

    With regard to any Florida cities or townships that have shown disregard for the law and are stating that wearing masks are illegal:

    Send a copy of the law (and any court decisions applicable) to both the city/township/county attorney. State that the police department is intentionally violating or has stated that they will violate the civil rights of anyone who wears a mask. Tell the city that he is hereby informed that any such violation will be met with legal recourse. (this is a nice way of stating that it will cost the city a LOT of money).

    Send another letter to the police Chief and Sheriff as well (individually). However inform them that they will be held PERSONALLY responsible for any violation of civil rights under the statute and that such violation will hereby be considered WILLFUL and malicious and aggravated. (this part makes it clear which department will have to pay and that the head of the department is the payor personally).

    If possible, it is best to draft such letters and have them sent by an attorney on letterhead. It should only cost you a few bucks to have your digital letter transferred and mail on letterhead. This gives the attorney knowledge and possible future work!
  20. If you were proud of what your protesting for and did not have ill intent. You wouldn't wear a mask.

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