US military school denies Muslim’s request to wear headscarf

Charleston, South Carolina: The Citadel military college, known for its buttoned-up uniforms and strict discipline, decided Tuesday that a newly accepted female student cannot wear a traditional Muslim headscarf if she enrols in the fall.

The decision disappointed the student, according to a family spokesman who said they are considering legal options because they believe “it’s the same issue faced by African-Americans and women in this situation.” The school didn’t immediately embrace the first African-American cadets during the 1960s and fought the enrolment of women in the 1990s before relenting.

Commandant of Cadets Geno Paluso said allowing the student to wear the head covering known as a hijab wouldn’t be consistent with the school’s policy of having cadets look similar.

“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,” Citadel President retired Lt. Gen John Rosa said in a statement.

The Citadel will continue to provide for any cadet’s spiritual needs when it can, such as providing special diets or time for prayer and driving cadets to their places of worship if they don’t have a car, Rosa said.

The president said he hopes the student, whose name and home town have not been released, still attends The Citadel in the fall.

Family spokesman Ibrahim Hooper with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, DC, said the woman will not attend the school unless there is a change. She cried this morning after getting the call, Hooper said.

She told the commandant that it wasn’t fair that she had to choose between going to the school and her faith, Hooper said.

“We view it as a continuation of the civil rights movement,” Hooper said.

While The Citadel has had a number of Muslim students, the request to wear the headscarf was unique, school spokeswoman Kim Keelor said.

Citadel cadets are required to wear uniforms nearly all the time. The school has a 35-page booklet of rules and regulations addressing military courtesies and uniforms.

Hooper said there is no reason to stick with this tradition since the American military itself has changed its views and offers a variety of religious accommodations on uniforms. There are Muslim women wearing hijabs in the American military now, he said.

“We defend the right of American Muslims to practice their faiths while participating in all levels of society,” Hooper said.

Earlier this year, 14 cadets were dismissed, suspended or served on-campus punishments after several of them appeared in photos with pillowcases on their heads similar to Ku Klux Klan garb.