(WASHINGTON, D.C., 5/10/16) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today said it is considering legal options to challenge a decision by The Citadel military college in South Carolina to deny a newly-accepted Muslim student’s request to wear a religious head scarf, or hijab.
The school, which is a publically-funded institution, told the Muslim student about the denial of religious accommodation in a phone call this morning.
In a statement, CAIR Senior Staff Attorney William Burgess said:
“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.
“We believe the desire to maintain an outdated ‘tradition,’ which was the same argument used to initially deny admittance to African-Americans and women, does not justify violating a student’s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.
“No student should be forced to choose between her faith and an education that can facilitate future service to her nation.”
CAIR is working with the family to decide on legal options in the case.
The Citadel only began admitting female students in 1995. The controversy generated by admitting women resulted in the first female cadet having to be escorted by U.S. marshals. The first African-American student was admitted in 1966.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Army granted a Sikh officer permission to wear a turban over his long hair and a beard with his uniform.
In 2014, CAIR welcomed an updated Pentagon policy on religious accommodation for military personnel. That updated policy changed rules governing religious accommodations that include beards, turbans and other religious symbols. Under the new policy, the military will make every effort to accommodate "individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs” unless it could have an “adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline.”
CAIR has dealt with past requests for religious accommodations by Muslim military and ROTC personnel.
In 2011, CAIR successfully urged the Department of Defense (DOD) to allow Muslim and Sikh students who wear an Islamic head scarf (hijab) or a turban to participate in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC).
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