Citadel Says Muslim Student Cannot Wear Hijab

By Kenrya Rankin May 11, 2016

The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, says a newly admitted Muslim student may not wear her hijab during training.

The student, whose name has been withheld, requested a religious accommodation that would allow her to wear her head covering when she reports for classes this fall, but officials at The Citadel denied her request. Yesterday (May 10), school president Lieutenant General John Rosa issued a statement explaining the school’s decision, which reads, in part:

As the Military College of South Carolina, The Citadel has relied upon a highly effective educational model requiring all cadets to adopt a common uniform. Uniformity is the cornerstone of this four-year leader development model. The standardization of cadets in apparel, overall appearance, actions and privileges is essential to the learning goals and objectives of the college. 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.

He went on to say that he hopes the student will attend anyway, and that, “The Citadel recognizes the importance of a cadet’s spiritual and religious beliefs, providing services for specific needs whenever possible.”

The family and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) are considering a filing a legal challenge to the ruling. “The Citadel violated the student’s right to a religious accommodation under the First Amendment and the South Carolina Religious Freedom Act, which makes it illegal for a state institution to place a burden on a person’s ability to practice his or her faith without the most compelling justification,” CAIR senior staff attorney William Burgess said in a statement. “We believe the desire to maintain an outdated ‘tradition,’ which was the same argument used to initially deny admittance to African-Americans and women, does not justify violating a student’s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.”

The Citadel admitted its first black student in 1966, and its first woman in 1995.

NPR reports that the student’s request to wear hijab went public because Citadel cadet Nick Pinelli posted about it on Facebook, writing, “Equality means the same set of rules for everyone. Not different rules for different people. It means accepting everyone, and giving them the same tools to succeed as the rest.”