Lawmaker to withdraw 'anti-burqa' bill after wave of criticism

Gov. Nathan Deal greets State Rep. Jason Spencer R-Woodbine Tuesday February 8, 2011Brant Sanderlin

Gov. Nathan Deal greets State Rep. Jason Spencer R-Woodbine Tuesday February 8, 2011Brant Sanderlin

State Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, said Thursday he will withdraw his proposed legislation that would ban women from wearing burqas on public property in Georgia.

Spencer filed the bill on Monday, the first day lawmakers could present legislation to be considered when the Legislature returns in January.

House Bill 3 would have made clear that no one could wear a burqa in a driver's license or state identification photo or while driving. It also appeared that the measure would have banned women from wearing burqas anywhere on public property.

The reaction to the idea was swift and critical. Earlier Thursday, Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, the most powerful member of that chamber, slammed Spencer's proposal.

"The government has no business preventing Muslim women from wearing face scarves in public," Shafer said in an interview.  "Too many people on both sides of the religious freedom debate only want to protect freedom when it comes to their own beliefs."

Spencer claimed his bill would pass constitutional muster but that political forces were too strong against it.

“While this bill does not contain language that specifically targets any group, I am mindful of the perception that it has created," he said in a statement. "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. "

A number of top Democrats and Republicans lined up against the measure in the two days it existed, while legal experts doubted the bill would accomplish much other than unfairly target Muslim women. Some Republicans, too, feared the measure would wound any effort to pass a "religious liberty" bill next year.

“Freedom is a meaningless concept if it does not apply to all beliefs, even the ones, especially the ones, you do not share,” Shafer said.