There’s a common theme to the recent student “revolution for Palestine” protests that are plaguing college campuses across the nation.

Students occupying college courtyards and erecting tent cities to demand divestment and a permanent ceasefire in the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel don’t want the public to know who they are, so they’re hiding behind medical masks or keffiyahs.

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“We are not stopping until we achieve full divestment of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor,” a “student” covered with a red keffiyah posted to the Young Democratic Socialists of America’s X page on Sunday. “We will not stop until the genocide is over and Palestine is free.”

The growing daily disturbance at U of M and countless other colleges and universities across the country is presenting challenges for officials working to keep campuses safe, protect targeted Jewish students, and ensure those who want to learn receive the education they were promised.

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In many cases, efforts to work directly with organizers have only emboldened the anonymous protestors, further frustrating campus leaders looking to balance free speech rights with safety.

Research from the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University offers insights into laws in 15 states authorities could leverage to return campuses to a sense of normalcy.

“The earliest laws banning masked demonstrations date back to the antebellum era In 1845 New York made it illegal to appear ‘disguised and armed,’” according to the center’s research on anti-mask laws. “Most anti-mask laws were passed, however, in response to the Ku Klux Klan, whose members used masks to hide their identities as they terrorized their victims.”

While the victims are now college students who simply want to go to class and earn a degree, the laws remain in place in 15 states and many counties and municipalities.

“Most anti-mask laws do not target specific groups explicitly,” the center reports. “Instead, they use neutral language, typically banning mask wearing that intimidates others. Supporters of such laws argue that wearing masks emboldens people to commit crimes and makes those crimes more frightening to the victims.”

In some cases, courts have ruled the Constitution guarantees only the right to free speech, and not the conditions for the speech, and that protecting citizens from intimidation is a compelling state interest.

Anarchists failed in attempt in 2001 to raise a constitutional free speech claim to challenge convictions under New York’s anti-mask law, while other cases promoting masks as symbolic speech have also largely failed, according to the center.

In other cases, covered troublemakers have had mixed success fighting anti-mask laws through equal protection claims, noting exceptions for Halloween, masquerade balls, and medical reasons, but not political reasons.

“Overall the general trend has been towards upholding anti-mask laws, at least where mask wearers cannot show direct, specific evidence of harassment,” according to the center.

An analysis of state anti-mask laws notes both New York and the District of Columbia repealed anti-mask laws in June 2020 in response to the COVID pandemic, while other states temporarily suspended or provided exceptions to anti-mask laws.

States with anti-mask laws going into the pandemic included Florida, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia, California, New York, and the District of Columbia.

“In many states, anti-mask laws apply only if the wearer has harmful intent, such as committing a crime (California, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Florida, Washington DC) or deprive another person of their constitutional rights (Connecticut, Delaware, New Mexico),” according to the analysis.