Burqa bill rightly yields to Barney Rule

Georgia isn’t TV’s mythical Mayberry, but some state lawmakers on Thursday, facing fallout from an ill-conceived legislative proposal, took Barney Fife’s familiar advice and moved to Nip It in the Bud.

This political albatross didn’t need to hang around one second longer. The last thing Georgia needs, at this time or any time, is the kind of attention that political stunts like this attract.

The bill in question, of course, is the one proposed by state Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, that would ban women from wearing burqas on public property.

Spencer insisted that nothing in the bill “specifically targets any group,” and that its purpose was “to address radical elements that could pose a threat to public safety” — a transparent rationalization in which the second part flatly contradicts the first.

Many of Spencer’s most influential fellow lawmakers weren’t buying it.

“The government has no business preventing Muslim women from wearing face scarves in public,” Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution 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 … Freedom is a meaningless concept if it does not apply to all beliefs, even the ones, especially the ones, you do not share.”

Maybe that should be on plaques in courtrooms and legislative chambers. Shafer cut right to the heart of the flagrant doctrinal-constitutional illogic of those who think their “rights” should include the power to curtail somebody else’s.

In any case, Spencer quietly withdrew the bill, saying that “further consideration dictates that other solutions will need to be considered.”

If ever there was a case of political discretion being the better part of valor, this would be it.