South Carolina military college’s hijab refusal could prompt legal action
Cadet commencement ceremony . Citadel Military College website

CHARLESTON, S.C.: A Muslim student is “heartbroken” after being told on Tuesday that The Citadel military college in South Carolina will not allow her to wear a hijab with her uniform should she enroll this fall, according to a Muslim advocacy group, which said it may take legal action in response.

In announcing the decision, the publicly funded military college in Charleston said it recognized the importance of individual religious beliefs but would not grant the exception to the standardized uniform considered essential to its culture.

“Uniformity is the cornerstone of this four-year leader development model,” the school’s president, Lieutenant General John Rosa, said in a statement, adding that he hoped the admitted student would still attend.

She has no plans to do so without the religious accommodation, said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C. The advocacy group is considering legal options as a result of the denial, he said.

“She was in tears this morning,” said Hooper, who said he spoke to the student’s family. “She told the commandant that it was not fair for her to have to choose between her faith and attending The Citadel.”

The student, who has not been identified, lives outside of South Carolina, Hooper said.

Some current Citadel students and alumni had spoken out against allowing an exception, citing the military college’s emphasis on uniformity in apparel and privileges.

Citadel students are required to wear uniforms furnished by the college at nearly all times except when the corps of cadets is furloughed or a cadet is on leave, according to the college’s website.

Rosa said the student’s request to wear the head scarf was given “considerable review” by the college, which considers requests for religious accommodations on a case-by-case basis.

Accommodations for prayer and dietary needs are commonly made, the school said. Several years ago, The Citadel allowed a cadet to wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt during physical fitness training for religious reasons, Citadel spokesman Brett Ashworth said in a telephone interview.

“We do everything we can to support our cadets,” Ashworth said.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Defense gave troops more latitude to wear turbans, head scarfs, yarmulkes and other religious clothing with their uniforms unless it might affect military readiness or unit cohesion.

Ashworth said the college is not governed by those rules.

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