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A group of Democratic state lawmakers have joined with an array of civil rights organizations, Jewish groups and faith leaders to push for a new ban on masks in New York state. On Thursday, supporters of the potential ban gathered outside Columbia University to launch a new social media campaign in favor of the ban, called #UnmaskHateNY. The NAACP New York Conference, National Urban League, Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Community Relations Council, UJA-Federation and at least 11 Democratic state legislators have all expressed support for the potential mask ban.

The push to reinstate the state’s mask ban – which was originally passed in 1845 in response to tenant riots but was repealed during the COVID-19 pandemic – comes as Gov. Kathy Hochul has floated the possibility of banning masks on subways over concerns about public safety and antisemitic protests. Opponents of the ban say it will hurt people who are still masking for health reasons, including immunocompromised and disabled individuals, and could be used as a pretext to criminalize pro-Palestine demonstrations. But proponents of reinstating the ban say that their intent is not to outlaw medical masks, just to prevent people from concealing their identities.

Speakers at the #UnmaskHateNY launch repeatedly invoked the specter of the Klu Klux Klan in their remarks. While the KKK was not the original target of New York state’s mask ban, bans on face coverings at public gatherings have been successfully used against the hate group in New York and other states. 


Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz introduced legislation in May that would bring back the ban on facial coverings at public demonstrations. Like others at the press conference, he referenced the KKK in making his case for his bill.

“You know what the difference (is) between the people who wrap those things around their heads leaving only room for their eyes and somebody wearing a white hood with just room for their eyes?” asked Dinowitz, referring to Palestinian protesters who have wrapped Palestinian keffiyehs around their faces in ways that conceal their identities. “The difference is there is no difference – they’re the same, their motives are the same and they’re just as evil as each other.” After receiving criticism over the remark, Dinowitz clarified in a post on X that he intended only to compare the act of covering one’s face and said he should have “spoken more artfully.” “I absolutely do not equate the two in and of themselves. Full stop,” he wrote.

Support and opposition

Dinowitz’s bill, which he called a work in progress, has already attracted five co-sponsors: Assembly Members Sam Berger, Deborah Glick, Charles Lavine, Andrew Hevesi and Amy Paulin, the chair of the Assembly Health Committee. In June, state Sen. James Skoufis introduced a companion bill in his own chamber. Assembly Members Brian Cunningham, Nily Rozic (who both attended the launch), Jenifer Rajkumar and Eddie Gibbs have also released statements in favor of the bill, though they are not listed as co-sponsors. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams have also indicated support for a mask ban. “New York City will always defend your right to free speech and will continue to protect public health, but we are increasingly seeing masked protestors using anonymity to intimidate, threaten, and break the law,” Adams said in a statement following the press conference. “This behavior is unacceptable, and we will not tolerate it.”

At the rally, Dinowitz said that he would like to pass the bill as soon as possible and would like to see lawmakers return to Albany before next year to do that. But not everyone is on board with the push to bring back the mask ban. Progressives are concerned about the negative health implications of banning masks during a pandemic, and those supportive of the pro-Palestine movement fear that the ban would be used to crack down on peaceful protests. “I have heard concerns from constituents, health professionals and advocates about the way this runs count to good public health policy, including from Jewish New Yorkers,” Assembly Member Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas told City & State. “Even with a health exemption, this could open the door to unequal enforcement of such a ban, which usually disproportionately impacts communities of color.”

Fellow Assembly Member Harvey Epstein also expressed concern about enacting a new mask ban. “The criminalization of wearing personal protective equipment does nothing to keep us safer,” he wrote in a post on X. “It puts (immunocompromised) NYers at risk & opens the door for over-policing & harassment of people protecting their health in accordance with recommendations by @HealthNYGov.” And state Sen. Jessica Ramos wrote on X that the attempt is “well-intentioned,” she called it “reactive policymaking (that) can have unintended consequences.”

The progressive organization Jews for Racial and Economic Justice released a statement criticizing the rally and the proposed mask ban. “Regardless of legislators’ motivations for proposing a mask ban, the impact will be: a blow to public health in our state; discrimination against immunocompromised people; and to advance a broader anti-democratic effort to suppress and criminalize protest. We urge all New York State legislators to oppose this bill,” the group’s executive director Audrey Sasson said. 

Proposals like those from Hochul and Dinowitz have also spurred the creation of a new group dedicated to opposing mask bans: Jews for Mask Rights. The group released an open letter focused on the health implications of a mask ban that the letter calls “a direct violation of Jewish values.” The group claims over 700 signatories to the letter. 

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