An incoming American-Muslim student at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina in Charleston, will not be allowed to wear a religious headscarf. According to the military college, the garb does not conform with the college’s standard uniform.
The decision reflects the school’s culture of standardizing the appearance of its cadets regardless of their religious leanings. “This process reflects an initial relinquishing of self during which cadets learn the value of teamwork to function as a single unit. Upon graduation, The Citadel’s graduates are prepared to enter a life committed to principled leadership in military service and civilian careers,” said Lt Gen. John Rosa.
Reporters for ABC News write that although Lt. Rosa rejected the request, religious beliefs are respected at The Citadel. The school accommodates dietary and prayer requirements and also allows a number of faith-based organizations from the community to operate on campus. The school also provides rides to places of worship for its students.
Religious exceptions are not made regarding dress, however. Fox News notes that the school is known for its button-up uniforms and close-cropped haircuts that represent the subduing of one’s self for the greater goal of military service. Citadel cadets are required to wear uniforms nearly all of the time, and the school has a 35-page booklet of rules and regulations addressing military customs and uniforms.
A spokesman for the family of the newly-accepted Muslim student says the student is not only disappointed in the decision, but will not attend the Charleston school this fall unless there is a change. The family is considering legal options. In the U.S. Army, religious headgear may be worn if the headgear is subdued in color, can be completely covered, and does not interfere with the wear or functioning of protective clothing or equipment.
“We believe the desire to maintain an outdated ‘tradition,’ which was the same argument used to initially deny admittance to African-Americans and women, does not justify violating a student’s constitutional rights. Our nation’s military currently accommodates religious attire in the form of headscarves, beards, and turbans. The Citadel should offer the same accommodations,” says William Burgess, an attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations Attorney. “No student should be forced to choose between her faith and an education that can facilitate future service to her nation.”
According to The Citadel, there are currently 3 Muslim students, 9 Jewish students, 9 Buddhist students, 39 agnostic or atheists, and 89 students whose religion is listed as “other.” The rest of the school’s 2,166 cadets identify as Christians.
This is not the first incident in which the school has invited controversy. In the 1990s, Citadel fought against the admission of its first woman cadet, but it later relented to public pressure. Earlier this year, 14 cadets were dismissed, suspended, or punished after several of them appeared in photos with pillowcases on their heads reminiscent of Ku Klux Klan garb. Culturally, The Citadel has a reputation of being imbued with the strictest discipline and a rich tradition of military service.