Election 2016

Gov. Gary Johnson on Burqa Ban: 'My Response Was Wrong'

The 2012 LP presidential candidate says "banning face veils wouldn't work, and would be impossible to enforce without infringing on basic rights."


Reason TV

In a Q&A with Reason.com yesterday, Gary Johnson, the 2012 Libertarian Party presidential candidate and former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico (1995 to 2003), announced his bid to head the LP ticket again in 2016.

Surprisingly, he also came out in favor of banning the burqa in public, telling me that he'd sign such a law if it crossed his desk as president. That statement perplexed many people on Twitter, on Facebook, and at Reason.com as incompatible with libertarian ideals of minimal government and freedom of religion.

A short time ago, I received an exclusive statement from the Johnson campaign, in which the candidate says bluntly, "My response was wrong….it is clear that banning face veils wouldn't work, and would be impossible to enforce without infringing on basic rights."

Here is the full, unedited statement from Gov. Johnson:

In an interview with Reason Wednesday, I was asked about a ban on women wearing burqas. The question came in a discussion of Sharia law and its incompatibility with the fundamental tenets of liberty. I answered the question in the context of the fact that, under Sharia law, women have no choice but to wear the burqa, and live under a system of law that not only allows, but condones, abuse of women. In that context, I stated that banning the full-face burqa, as was done in France, would be a reasonable step toward preventing signs of abuse from being hidden. My response was not about telling women what they can and cannot wear, but about protecting them from harm under a brutal ideology under which women have nothing resembling equal rights.

However, having had time to consider, my response was wrong. As with many well-intentioned ideas, a government-imposed ban on full-face coverings would have unintended consequences and likely result in government overreach. As governor, I vetoed many such well-intended laws, and on reflection, would in fact veto a government ban on full face burqas. While the law must provide protection for women from abuse, it is clear that banning face veils wouldn't work, and would be impossible to enforce without infringing on basic rights.

Sharia law is incompatible with the freedoms upon which America is founded, and it must not be overlooked that, under Sharia ideology, women have no rights, and are certainly not free to dress as they wish. Imposing such a system on women under some guise of freedom of religion or expression is not acceptable under any notion of liberty. On that point I am firm. But a government ban on an item of clothing might well have the consequence of restricting, not protecting, freedom.

Johnson's official campaign site is here.

The Daily Beast's Andrew Kirell talks with Johnson and writes:

Admitting that his decidedly un-libertarian proposal rankled the feathers of many libertarians (and non-libertarians), Johnson told The Daily Beast: "I would not sign that legislation because I think that it would end up being government intrusion on you or I… I gave Reason the honest kneejerk response and if I'm wrong, I'm wrong."

Yesterday's Q&A, in which Johnson also rates each of the major Democratic and Republican candidates running for their party's nominations, is here.

Last July, Reason TV interviewed Johnson about what he had learned from his 2012 campaign experience; why he believes in balanced budgets, social freedoms, and a non-interventionist foreign policy; why he thinks Donald Trump is appealing to "racist" voters; and why he no longer wants "anything to do with" the Republican Party. Watch below: