Can The Citadel's dress code include a hijab?

An incoming Muslim freshman has requested the right to wear a headscarf with her uniform. The military college outlines strict rules on appearance and clothing for students. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman
Students from the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, serve as Summerville Guards at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the North Carolina Azalea Festival's garden tour in Wilmington in this April 2015 file photo. A female student has petitioned the school to allow her to wear her Muslim headscarf.

A woman at South Carolina's famous military college wants to follow its strict uniform rules – but she also wants to practice her religion.

The student, an incoming freshman at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, requested that she be able to wear a traditional Muslim headscarf alongside the school's strict uniform requirements.

The hijab, which comes from the Arabic word for veil, is one of several types of headscarves many Muslim women wear, often viewed as symbols of faith, modesty, and humility.

The Citadel's policies require its cadets to wear uniforms at nearly all times. At present, three Muslim students are enrolled, and several others have attended, but a spokeswoman says this is the first time such a request has been made. The student has not been identified due to privacy regulations.  

Under The Citadel's policies, cadets must wear an authorized uniform at practically all times: civilian clothing is not allowed during the academic year, with just a few exceptions, like the beach.

According to school policy,

The Citadel will approve requests for accommodation of religious practices unless accommodation will have an adverse impact on a competing institutional interest including, but not limited to, cohesion, morale, good order and discipline, cadet welfare, safety and/or health. Accommodation of a cadet’s religious practices must be examined considering these factors and cannot be guaranteed at all times.

"The college is reviewing the request at this time," The Citadel said in a statement. "We do not currently have anyone that has a special religious accommodation for uniforms." 

The request comes at a time when Islam and Muslims have come under renewed scrutiny, both in America and abroad. In France, Prime Minister Manuel Valls has called for a ban on Muslim headscarves in universities, but was immediately contradicted by other French leaders who asserted that university students, as adults, have the right to wear what they please in accordance with their religious faith.

In the United States, it's not just Muslims who have sought religious accommodations to a military uniform requirement. Sikh members of the military have also pushed for religious accommodations to wear their turbans under combat gear. Sikh men, who do not cut their hair or beards, have spent years arguing for military uniform accommodations on a case-by-case basis. In the past month, three more have had their requests approved

"After months of waiting, I'm ecstatic that I can finally serve both God and country," Private Arjan Ghotra said in a release from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which helped argue his case. 

After reviewing their request, the Army found that turbans, beards, and uncut hair would not pose a significant burden on troop cohesion, provided that the men follow certain outlined requirements.  

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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