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ACLU of Utah Writes Salt Lake City Council Members About Proposed Ordinance Prohibiting Masks

17 January 2002 Published in Local Policy Work

The ACLU of Utah submits the following comments on the anti mask ordinance introduced by Salt Lake City’s Chief of Police Rick Dinse.

 

January 18, 2002

Jay Magure
Chief of Staff
City and County Building
451 South State Street
Salt Lake City, Utah 84111

Salt Lake City Council
City and County Building, Room 315
451 South State Street
Salt Lake City, Utah 84111

RE: Ordinance Prohibiting Wearing Masks

Dear Chief Magure and Council Members,

The ACLU of Utah submits the following comments on the anti mask ordinance introduced by Salt Lake City’s Chief of Police Rick Dinse. Please note that we share Chief Dinse’s concerns about criminals who use masks to avoid apprehension and identification. However, the proposed ordinance is so vague that it could lead to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement against persons engaged in constitutionally protected speech or expressive activity.

The proposed ordinance’s definition of “intent” is especially vague. The requisite criminal intent in the ordinance can be inferred from “spoken word, uttered sounds, acts or behavior.” This may lead to criminal charges against demonstrators engaged in peaceful demonstrations regarding controversial subject matters. For example, a demonstrator in a cow costume may engage in constitutionally protected speech by calling for the end of animal exploitation in Salt Lake City. Under this ordinance, those “spoken words” could lead to an inference that the speaker intends to “avoid identification while engaged in conduct prohibited by law; or (2) invite another person or group of persons to riot.”

“Intent” is commonly defined as “[a] state of mind in which a person seeks to accomplish a given result through a course of action.” Blacks Law Dictionary 810 (6th ed. 1990). The Utah Criminal Code defines “intentionally” as “conscious objective or desire to engage in the conduct or cause the result.” Ut. Code Ann. §76-2-103. Clearly these definitions are more restrictive and would be less likely to lead to the conclusion that the speaker in the above situation intends to commit imminent lawless action while wearing a mask.

If it is indeed the limited purpose of this act to apprehend violent unlawful persons who wear masks with the intent to avoid identification while engaged in conduct prohibited by law, the City should consider adding the following language to the ordinance: “Nothing in this ordinance prohibits masks, hoods or other devices that alter one’s facial appearance, worn for communicative purposes or for anonymity as a necessary corollary to freedom of association, both protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of these suggestions.

Sincerely,

Janelle P. Eurick
Staff Attorney