Citadel refuses exemption for prospective cadet to wear hijab

The Citadel announced Tuesday that it will not allow an incoming female cadet to wear a Muslim head dress over her uniform, prompting the student to threaten legal action.

“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,” Citadel president John Rosa stated in a press release. “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,” he explained.

The school announced earlier this year that it was considering the student’s request to wear a hijab, a decision that would have been an unprecedented exception to the school’s historically strict uniform requirements. In fact, a spokeswoman told The Washington Times in April that the school has never made religious accommodations to the school’s uniform in its 175-year history, and that this request was the first of its kind.

After months of deliberation, though, the school ultimately rejected the request, saying that although it values its students’ religious beliefs, an exception to the uniform would undermine its goal of unity.

“The Citadel recognizes the importance of a cadet’s spiritual and religious beliefs, providing services for specific needs whenever possible,” Rosa noted. “For example, during the first week of school faith-based organizations on campus and from the community meet with freshmen cadets. Cadet religious officers arrange transportation to churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship for those without cars. Accommodations for prayer and dietary needs are common at the college.”

Rosa added that he hopes the student will elect to attend The Citadel despite his decision, but she has already decided to take her business elsewhere.

Ibraham Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, spoke to the student’s family Tuesday morning and relayed to The Washington Post that she would not attend The Citadel in the fall. Hooper also noted that the family is weighing its legal options and considering the possibility of suing the institution.

“As far as legal action [is considered], all options are on the table,” Hooper said. “Obviously from CAIR’s perspective, as a civil-rights organization, we’re not going to drop this issue. We’re going to view it as a continuation of the civil-rights struggles that allowed African Americans and women to have free entry and participation in these types of institution nationwide.

“There are Muslim women wearing hijab in our nation’s military,” he pointed out, arguing that “whether it’s hijab or beards or turbans, to cling to these outdated ‘traditions’ merely out of a sense of not wanting to change anything is, I think, untenable in this day and age in our increasingly diverse society.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski