Army JROTC Alters Policy on Religious Clothing

Students participating in the Army Junior ROTC high school program will now have more options when it comes to religious clothing in uniform.  In October, Demin Zawity, a freshman at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood, TN, was told she could not wear her Islamic headscarf while in the Army JROTC uniform.  While that policy was consistent with the US Army policy, there was some consternation even by Army officials, some of whom called JROTC a “citizenship” program, not a military program.

Now CAIR, the group that originally accused the Army of discrimination, has said the DoD told them

the Department of Defense will now allow Muslim and Sikh students participating in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) to wear headscarves and turbans while in uniform.

While that conclusion is understandable (and several sites have repeated it), its not entirely accurate.  The policy remains the same; what the Army did was ensure there was a process for cadets to obtain an exception to the policy

Army spokesman George Wright confirmed Stubblefield’s letter to CAIR and explained to The Daily Caller that while JROTC is affiliated with the Army, it is not actually a part of the Army. The new procedures will provide JROTC with a exemption method more similar to current Army procedure mandated through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
That law allows soldiers on active duty to apply for religious accommodation if they want to alter their uniforms in accordance with their religious beliefs. The exemptions are applied on a case-by-case basis. Soldiers who are transferred must reapply.

Exceptions to policy (ETP) do not change the policy, nor do they technically set precedent.  Each one is determined on its individual merits.

“Requests for ETP [exemptions to policy] to uniform and grooming standards (AR 670-1) based on religion, are considered on a case by case basis and balanced against military necessity ETPs are temporary, cannot be guaranteed at all times, not liberally granted, and may be revoked due to changed conditions,” Army regulations state.

Jed Babbin, a former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, is quoted as questioning the wisdom of the policy, as it sets a trend that undermines even the policy of the active duty military, not just JROTC.

For their part, CAIR was ecstatic.

“We welcome the fact that Muslim and Sikh students nationwide will now be able to participate fully in JROTC leadership activities while maintaining their religious beliefs and practices,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad in a statement.