North Carolina Senate Voted Along Party Lines to Ban Anyone From Wearing Masks in Public

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: Jun 03, 2024

Over the past few years, Americans have certainly utilized their Constitutional right to protest a wide variety of important issues. Though, in recent months, North Carolina has seen more protests than any other state.

In response to these protests, the North Carolina Senate recently voted in favor of making masks illegal in public, even for health reasons. Republican Senators of the state believe this is the best way to protect their constituents, while Democratic Senators argue that this bill could literally be fatal.

Protests in North Carolina

The majority of the recent protests in North Carolina have been held at the University of North Carolina’s campuses. While the issues vary, several protests were held against the university’s DEI (diversity, equality, and inclusion) policies and some against the Israel-Hamas War.

Several protestors on the UNC Chapel Hill campus wearing masks and holding signs that read “Cops Off Campus” and “UNC Divest Now”

Source: Reddit

In April, one pro-Palestine protest escalated, and the police detained 36 people who were cited with trespassing. The situation became so volatile that UNC Chapel Hill canceled all classes that day.

North Carolina Senate Proposed a Bill to Ban Masks in Public

In response to these recent troubling events, the North Carolina Senate decided to take action. On May 8, 2024, they voted on House Bill 237, also known as the “Unmasking Mobs and Criminals” Act.

A photograph of the inside of the North Carolina Senate chambers


The act essentially bans wearing any kind of face mask in public that would otherwise hide a criminal’s identity, which they hoped would help minimize criminal activity during otherwise peaceful protests.

The Bill Passed But Is Still Up for Debate

The bill passed with a 30-15 vote in favor, with the Senate’s Republicans voting yes and the Democrats voting no. However, the bill is not a law just yet.

North Carolina’s Democratic Governor Roy Cooper smiles for the camera

Source: @Governor Roy Cooper/Facebook

Before masks are actually illegal in North Carolina, the House, and the state’s Democratic Governor, Roy Cooper, still have to approve the bill. Meanwhile, residents of North Carolina, and really the rest of the world, are debating the benefits and disadvantages of such a decision.

The History of Mask Bans in North Carolina

Before discussing the pros and cons of the bill, it’s crucial to understand the history of mask bans in NC. Essentially, in the 1950s, a bill was passed in North Carolina that banned masks in public to ensure hate groups, such as the Klu Klux Klan, could not disguise themselves while performing criminal acts.

An illustration of a crowd of people shouting hate speech

Source: Adobe Stock

But then, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the law was adjusted to allow musks in public for the health and safety of NC residents. Now, many are arguing that the bill should simply return to “normal” as there is no life-threatening pandemic being passed through the air.

Why Would Banning Masks in North Carolina Be Dangerous?

 As the debate regarding NC’s mask ban continues, it is generally those in the Democratic party who are fighting against it. They worry that making masks illegal, even for those with health concerns, could be extremely dangerous to those with compromised immune systems.

A photograph of a mother holding her young son, both of whom are wearing health masks

Source: Freepik

A Democratic lawmaker in the North Carolina Senate, Sydney Batch, explained that, as a cancer survivor, she and her family have worn masks to protect her while she underwent treatment. And by refusing that option, the Senate could literally be killing people.


North Carolina Police Will not Be Arresting Everyone Wearing a Mask

On the other hand, the vast majority of those in support of the bill banning masks in public are members of the Republican party. They argue that the bill will keep NC residents safe from criminals, especially those from hate groups, who wear masks to conceal their identity.

A photograph of several new members of the North Carolina State Police after being sworn in

Source: North Carolina Department of Public Safety

Many supporters of the bill argue that the police will not be charging residents wearing a mask while shopping for groceries or in a public place. The only time law enforcement will prosecute someone for wearing a mask in public is if they suspect they are doing so to hide their identity for criminal reasons.


NC Democrats Want the Bill to Be Rewritten

The argument from NC’s Democrats is that, if the bill truly is only for those who are specifically hiding their faces to perform criminal acts, it should be rewritten to reflect that. They say that the health and safety clause should remain in the act to legally allow residents to protect themselves from germs as they see fit.

A photograph of an older woman wearing a mask for health reasons while shopping at the grocery store

Source: Shutterstock

As Senator Natasha Marcis, D-Mecklengburg, explained, “The bill sponsor says that probably no one would be charged just for wearing a mask for their health reasons if they’re not up to no good. But how does he know that?”


Others Say This Is a Political Stance Against the COVID-19 Pandemic

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 to 2022, there were millions of Americans, most often Republicans, who fought vehemently against the mask and social distancing mandates.

A sign at a protest that shows a picture of a mask and the text “The New Symbol of Tyranny”

Source: Reddit

And some said that this new bill which literally makes masks illegal is a political move more than a fight for residents’ safety. They worry that if the bill passes and another pandemic arises, there will be no way to enforce an emergency mask mandate.


North Carolina Residents Shouldn’t Be Scared

Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson has spoken out in favor of the bill, explaining that each of the proposed negative side effects of the mask ban are simply unfounded fears.

A woman wearing a purple shirt smiles while putting on her mask

Source: Freepik

Newton told The Carolina Journal, “There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what this bill does and how the law operates. And it’s no wonder that so many folks are scared. This bill addresses wearing a mask for the purpose of hiding your identity; those are the criminal statutes that are referenced… But if we communicate to the public a false notion, of course they’re going to be scared. Of course they’re going to be fearful. That certainly is not my intent.”


North Carolina’s Senate Is Making Some Big Changes to State Law

The proposed mask ban is not the only controversial bill on the NC Senate’s docket this year. They also proposed several other controversial pieces of legislation last week.

View of a young child’s hands handcuffed behind their back

Source: iStock

One would modernize sex crime laws to include technology like AI, another would reverse the juvenile justice reform of 2019 and charge 16 and 17 year old felony offenders as adults, and the third would allow more billboards to replace trees along the side of NC’s roads.


The Fight Between the Red and Blue Will Continue in North Carolina

For now, North Carolina residents will just have to wait and see whether or not the bill banning masks in public, as well as the many other laws proposed, becomes a reality.

An illustration depiction Democrats vs. Republicans with the shadows of a donkey and an elephant against an American flag

Source: Shutterstock

With a Republican Senate and a Democratic governor, it’s extremely challenging to say which bills will be passed and which won’t. Though the hope is that, no matter what Gov. Cooper decides, those who need to wear masks for their health will still be able to do so.