CAIR Accuses Army JROTC of Discrimination

The Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has said US Army JROTC uniform policies are discriminatory after Demin Zawity, a freshman at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood, TN, was told she could not wear her Islamic headscarf while in the Army uniform.

There’s no reason for them to have a policy that excludes people such as Zawity, said Gadeir Abbas, a CAIR staff attorney. It paves the way to encourage all faiths to participate, he added.

While noble-sounding, Abbas’ statement was ignorant.  JROTC programs are designed to be nearly identical to their ROTC and operational military equivalents — including following generally the same uniform rules.  In this case, the JROTC rule accurately reflects US military policy (to which there have been some notable exceptions).

Abbas also made a misleading and potentially incendiary statement: 

“It’s an unwise policy. It’s acceptable for a Jewish student to wear his yarmulke under his uniform hat. The regulations already reflect that there are religious obligations among members.”

The Army accurately corrected Abbas, saying regulations permit such religious articles only when they can be covered by the normal military uniform.

For her part, Zawity said

“They weren’t rude or anything, or racist, they were just careless. I felt like they weren’t trying to fight for me or to get an exception for me,” Zawity said.

The 14-year-old freshman needs to understand the magnitude of what she’s asking (and that such policies have nothing to do with race).  Exceptions like that have taken years in the past when requested in the operational military.  It is unlikely it would have been a quick turn around from the Army’s Cadet Command, either.

Still, an Army spokesman hinted there was wiggle room:

Lt. Col. Matt Hackathorn, a spokesman for cadet command at Ft. Knox, Ky. [said] “We are looking at our current policies. We don’t want to be seen as discriminatory. It’s not a military program but a citizenship program.”

Notably, neither the school nor the JROTC program told her she had to leave; she quit the program on her own.  Hackathorn also said

“We’re not discriminatory. She’s invited to come back anytime, but it has to be in accordance with the regulations,” [Hackathorn] said.

While everyone is averse to the “d” word, some need to understand that the US military (and its adjuncts, when they use the same rules) is discriminatory.  If you’re overweight, you can’t join the US military.  A high school student in a wheel chair probably wouldn’t march in the parade, either.  If you wear a beard for religious reasons, same thing.

The military has granted some exceptions to some of these “discriminatory” policies, but it has never changed them.  Because of the recognition of the human liberty of religious freedom, as protected by the US Constitution, issues of religious freedom do generate specific attention.

The uniform exception noted above was the result of a lawsuit against the US military (Goldman v Weinberger, previously mentioned) in which the Supreme Court ultimately sided with the military.  Only when Congress — which writes the governing policy for the military — changed the military guidance (DoDD 1300.17) did the religious exception come about.

Religious accommodation is a significant point of attention in the US military, but it is heavily influenced by the mission, and, depending on the circumstances, it is not guaranteed.