Georgia did not ‘ban Muslim culture,’ as fake-news websites claimed

  • Joshua Gillin
3:39 p.m Thursday, March 30, 2017 AJC Homepage
State Rep. Jason Spencer soon withdrew a bill he’d introduced last year to ban wearing burqas, niqabs and veils.

A post that appears to have originated from fake news purveyors in Macedonia falsely said Georgia (our state, not the country) outlawed “Muslim culture.”

A March 13 post on USANewsPost.us carried the headline, “Georgia becomes first state to ban Muslim culture in historic move to restore Western values.”

Facebook users flagged the post as potentially fake.

PolitiFact Georgia examined the origins of this claim as part of the inaugural International Fact-Checking Day, April 2, which organizers at Poynter.org describe as “not a single event but a rallying cry for more facts — and fact-checking — in politics, journalism, and everyday life.”

The web post cited an actual event: A lawmaker introduced a bill in November 2016 in the Georgia General Assembly to ban wearing burqas, niqabs and veils. The fake story trumpeted the bill as being “about keeping the American people safe.”

But it did not note that the legislation never became law.

State Rep. Jason Spencer on Nov. 15 filed HB 3. The bill aimed to expand a 1951 state law that made wearing a mask a misdemeanor unless it was for celebrations, work, sports or emergencies. The original law aimed to prevent Ku Klux Klan members from wearing their hoods.

Spencer’s bill could have prevented Muslim women from wearing a head covering while driving, or possibly even while on public property. It also would have prevented people from wearing veils in photos for driver’s licenses and government-issued IDs, a rule the state already had.

“This bill is simply a response to constituents that do have concerns of the rise of Islamic terrorism, and we in the state of Georgia do not want our laws used against us,” Spencer told Atlanta’s WSB-TV.

The quote is cited in the USANewsPost.us article, which made an inference that the bill would have stopped “Muslim culture” in a way no other state had. (For the most part, wearing religious head coverings is protected by the First Amendment.)

Spencer withdrew the measure just two days later, “due to the visceral reaction it has created,” he said in a statement.

“While this bill does not contain language that specifically targets any group, I am mindful of the perception that it has created. My objective was to address radical elements that could pose a threat to public safety. However, further consideration dictates that other solutions will need to be considered.

USANewsPost.us cites DailyUSAUpdate.com as the source of the post, and that site in turn says it came from OpenMagazines.com. The story also has been shared on Facebook, across several other websites, tens of thousands of times.

We contacted OpenMagazines.com via email to ask them about the misleading headline but didn’t hear back.

BuzzFeed has previously reported that both OpenMagazines.com and DailyUSAUpdate.com are registered to owners in Macedonia. The former Yugoslav republic became a hotbed of fake news during last year’s presidential election. Buzzfeed found that teenagers in the town of Veles operated at least 140 websites that published fake political news in the United States to draw in advertising dollars.

USANewsPost.us also is registered to an administrator and address in Veles.

Bloggers said in a headline, “Georgia becomes first state to ban Muslim culture in historic move to restore Western values.”

The post misrepresents the outcome of a months-old and short-lived legislative proposal from November 2016. that could have prevented Muslim women from hearing veils and headscarves. Muslim culture was not banned.

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