The Citadel Considers a Hijab in Uniform

citadelFor the first time in its history, The Citadel is considering a request for a uniform exception that would allow a cadet to keep a religious accoutrement. Interestingly, the request came from a female (and females were only allowed in The Citadel at all starting in 1995).

The Citadel is considering a request from an admitted student that she be allowed to wear a hijab in keeping with her Muslim faith, a move that would be an unprecedented exception to the school’s longstanding uniform requirements.

The Citadel is not the US military, nor is it a state actor — but it does receive state money. That was why the US Supreme Court ruled against Virginia Military Institute in 1996, essentially saying as long as VMI accepted public money, it couldn’t discriminate on the basis of gender.

While the fact the accepted cadet is a Muslim has increased the attention, those objecting to a potential accommodation have mainly done so on the basis of the structure of The Citadel. That is, cadets attend The Citadel knowing and accepting the environment to which they are applying — not trying to change that environment to fit their personal mold:

It’s no secret that you can’t wear what you want when you’re at the Citadel. You’re punished even for wearing what you want when you’re not on campus. But, those who come here are signing up for that, no matter how much they hate it (we do). So it’s not unfair to those people who want to join an organization with the intentions of excluding themselves from the regulations, it’s unfair to those who practice within the realms of those regulations. It’s unfair to the school having to change rules and adjust to the individual, when the individual could’ve gone to USC without incident. Your expression of self shouldn’t place a burden of cost on others.

Another cadet wrote:

I can’t wear a tshirt around campus that says “I love Jesus”. Why? It’s not because of religious intolerance, it’s because it does not meet uniform requirements that all 2400 of us are held to. Am I offended that I can’t wear a religious tshirt? Nope. Why? Because I accepted the system that I have become a part of, and I’m willing to let it change me and join a long line of men and women who I will be honored to call my brothers and sisters.

If The Citadel were a military service academy, there would be little argument. The US government is required to protect religious liberty and accommodate religious expression in the least restrictive manner. While there is no “right” to serve in the US military (contrary to the claims of some activists), one could argue it is a public office to which the government cannot attach undue restrictions.

But The Citadel is not a state actor, and given that others voluntarily pay money to obtain the very environment this cadet seeks to alter, it’s an interesting situation.

Repeated at the Stars and Stripes.  Also at the Christian Science Monitor.