An American Muslim cadet admitted to the 2020 class at the Citadel — the public military college in South Carolina — will not be allowed to wear her hijab, the college announced Tuesday.
The Muslim woman, who was not identified, requested a religious accommodation to wear a hijab with the standard cadet uniform in April, sparking a contentious debate on social media on whether the college should make an unprecedented exception.
She is now working with the Council on American-Islamic Relations to determine potential legal action, a spokesman said.
In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, Citadel President Lt. Gen. John Rosa, USAF (Ret), said Tuesday that after "considerable review" the college determined the uniform exception could not be granted.
"Uniformity is the cornerstone of this four-year leader development model," Rosa said in his statement. "The standardization of cadets in apparel, overall appearance, actions and privileges is essential to the learning goals and objectives of the college. This process reflects an initial relinquishing of self during which cadets learn the value of teamwork to function as a single unit."
"Our Commandant spoke with [the student] this morning and expressed our desire for her to attend The Citadel," a college spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. "She did not indicate whether she would."
William Burgess, an attorney with CAIR, said the Citadel violated the student's right to religious accommodation under the First Amendment, as well as South Carolina's Religious Freedom Act.
"We believe the desire to maintain an outdated 'tradition,' which was the same argument used to initially deny admittance to African-Americans and women, does not justify violating a student's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," he said in a statement. "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."
The student's request first came to light in April, after another cadet, Nick Pinelli, wrote a Facebook post expressing his thoughts on the Citadel's decision to consider making the religious accommodation.
In his post — which got more than 1,000 shares — Pinelli wrote that he was called a "bigot" by a cadet for his opinion that the Citadel should not allow the student to wear her hijab.
In his post, Pinelli wrote:
"If I valued liberal ideology, I would go to UC Berkeley. I'd wear, say, and do whatever I wanted and it wouldn't cost the university any time or money for me to do so. If I valued conservative ideology and wanted to challenge myself in a military environment, I would go to the Citadel."
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."
He concluded the post saying, "For Christ's sake, Make America Great Again."
His post generated diverse opinions — most supporting his stance while some welcomed the school's decision to consider including more diversity.
The Citadel started accepting women in 1995. The college currently has three Muslim students, all of whom are male, the spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote a letter in April urging the Citadel to grant the exemption.
"For some Muslim women, wearing hijab is a core tenet of their religious practice," the ACLU said in the letter. "Being forced to remove it is humiliating, and for many Muslim women, no different than being compelled to strip in front of others. Thus, denying an accommodation here would effectively preclude many Muslim women from enrolling in the Citadel."
Citing examples of how the college provides for cadets' religious needs, including arranging transportation to churches, mosques and other places of worship, as well as prayer and dietary accommodations, Rosa wrote, "The Citadel recognizes the importance of a cadet's spiritual and religious beliefs, providing services for specific needs whenever possible."
He said, "The diversity of religions and cultural backgrounds represented in the Corps enriches the overall cadet experience and better prepares graduates to become principled leaders in all walks of life, underpinned by The Citadel's core values of honor, duty and respect."