The Citadel Mulls Muslim ‘Hijab’ Uniform Exception

Incoming Citadel freshman on August 19, 2013 in Charleston, South Carolina.
Richard Ellis/Getty Images

The Citadel is reviewing a request from a female Muslim student who has been admitted to the military college that she receive an exception to uniform regulations and be permitted to wear a hijab.

Such an exception would be the first for the school – which was founded in 1842 – and the controversy surrounding such an exemption is palpable, reports the Washington Post.

Cadet Nick Pinelli, who will be graduating in May, posted the following to Facebook Wednesday:

Currently, the Citadel is exhausting resources and man-hours to accommodate a woman who will be attending this school next semester. She will be the first cadet authorized to wear a ḥijāb, as well as full body covering when the uniform does not conceal the entirety of her body. Time and money is now being spent figuring out how the Citadel can alter rules and regulations to accommodate her needs. The school is even exhausting resources to research which company to place her in, so they ensure she is in the most accepting company in the Corps. No final decisions have been made, but time and effort are being consumed, nonetheless.

As you can imagine, the reasonable person sees issue after issue here. The Citadel is putting up zero fight. And you can’t blame them. The Administration knows that, in the end, it’s either or both a battle they can’t win and/or can’t afford. No matter how reasonable their argument is. So, to be clear, I don’t blame the Citadel at all.

The United States has always protected First Amendment rights by prohibiting any government entity from restricting any expression of speech on the basis of the content of the speech. You can burn an American flag because prohibiting one from doing so is taking issue with the CONTENT of what one is saying by burning said flag. That is powerful and ever necessary in a free society. However, burning a draft card is a crime. It is a crime because of the compelling government interest in the execution and functionality of a taxpayer-funded system. Burning a draft card disrupts that system. Therefore, the government doesn’t criminalize that act because of the speech it conveys, but because of the way it harms the execution of a government activity. Of course, we knew the draft card burner was burning it to give a big up yours to America, just like the flag burner. Yet, it is important to note the differences between the two acts. As much as we hated that speech, our Constitution will never allow our government to restrict our speech if they don’t like it. And that is good.

My first point. 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. Agree or not with the system, this institution has that system for a reason (that most maintain has worked exceptionally for almost 200 years) and the disruption of that system by exempting those who don’t wish to conform is legally pronounced a slippery slope that will lead to the further disintegration of said system. Unfortunately, after seeing what has happened in the military in similar cases, the school is being financially responsible in not fighting it. It’s important to note that the Armed Forces has not yet gone to the Supreme Court for an order of certiorari. They gave up the fight in circuit courts.

Moving away from a Constitutional argument, my next point is one of reason. There are various groups, organizations, governments, etcetera; all have different standards, ways of doing business, values, and systems. I simply find it shameful that people expect to be accommodated by groups that are opposite to themselves. The Citadel is going to waste countless hours and dollars making the school “ready” to accommodate this woman. They shouldn’t have to because they are ready. Those who came before her gave up their identities to attend this school. Trust me, people from every walk of life have given up their identities to attend this school so that they leave here with their identities not only intact, but fortified.

Pinelli points out that, in requesting the Citadel change its longstanding regulations for her, the female Muslim student is undermining what the Citadel represents:

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.

The cadet makes the distinction between the true equality of simple acceptance and special requests for new rules:

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… Equality means the same set of rules for everyone. Not different rules for different people. It means accepting everyone, and giving them the same tools to succeed as the rest. The inwardly self-contradictory arguments of the Left disagree with this mindset and I truly believe that if those arguments continue to prevail, this country will no longer be what it once was…

Pinelli, who reportedly is a Donald Trump campaign intern, concludes his post with, “For Christ’s sake, Make America Great Again.”

As the Post observes, someone on social media responded to Pinelli that “if the rules were not changed, ‘[the female Muslim student] would either have to break the rules of the Citadel or the rules of her religion.’”

In general, however, many cadets are expressing strong opposition to a change in the regulations.

One example cited in the news story:

It doesn’t bring harm to the school. But it is a blatant disrespect to what a military school stands for. We come here and willingly give up our individuality and become a part of a group that upholds the time honored traditions of this school. So for anyone to come, not even walk through our hallowed gates, and force the school to go to extreme lengths both financially and resourcefully, to accommodate one person, isn’t right. 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.


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