By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA): A leading U.S. military college is weighing the possibility of allowing a recently admitted student to wear an Islamic head covering.
Col. Brett Ashworth, vice president of communications and marketing for the Citadel, said in a statement to Anadolu Agency that the school is currently reviewing the request.
Ashworth did not provide the student’s name, but said the female student has been accepted for the fall semester.
A school spokeswoman said that this is the first request for a hijab exemption at the Citadel.
Founded in 1842, the South Carolina military college is known for its strict attire and conduct codes, as well as its high academic standards.
The Citadel’s religious accommodation policy states that the college “places a high value on the rights of cadets to observe tenets of their respective religious faiths.
In addition: “The Citadel will approve requests for accommodation of religious practices unless accommodation will have an adverse impact on a competing institutional interest,” the policy says, but adds that religious accommodation “cannot be guaranteed at all times.”
Exemptions can be made in line with any of five standards including worship practices, dietary practices, medical practices, wearing and appearance of the uniform and personal grooming, according to the policy.
News that the Citadel is considering an exemption for the student has stirred emotions on campus and beyond. “The Citadel should be able to tell the prospective student to wear what they tell her to wear. Not because they are concerned with the religion she is trying to practice or the speech expressed by doing so, but because they are concerned with the execution of an essential part of the system the Citadel puts in place,” Nick Pinelli, a Citadel cadet expected to graduate in May, wrote on Facebook.
“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),” he wrote.
But he added: “This girl should be welcomed to the Corps with open arms, as should any person of any religion, race, gender, or identity. That’s equality. It’s not equality to let one of those groups follow a different set of rules.”
The post was met with praise and outrage on the social media platform.
In one of over 150 replies, Jacob Yamshak wrote that without an exemption the student “would either have to break the rules of the Citadel or the rules of her religion.”
“Just because she’s Muslim doesn’t mean she isn’t a citizen. I just don’t see how it’s that big a deal that she covers up a few extra parts as her religion states,” he added in a reply to other users’ comments.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for CAIR, the largest Muslim American advocacy group, told Anadolu Agency that if the exemption is granted it would send “a very positive message” to Muslim Americans,
There are currently three Muslims students at the college, and several Muslims have graduated in the past, according to a school spokeswoman.
Author Michael Hernandez
[Photo: South Carolina military college [Citadel]. Photograph Wikimedia]