The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has announced that the Department of Defense will now allow Muslim and Sikh students participating in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) to wear headscarves and turbans while in uniform.
The decision, announced Thursday, followed an October incident in which Muslim teen Demin Zawity quit JROTC when her commanding officer at a Brentwood, Tenn. high school would not allow her to wear her hijab in the homecoming parade.
CAIR later wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta requesting “constitutionally-protected religious accommodations for the girl and for future Muslim JROTC participants.”
In a letter to the Muslim organization sent on Panetta’s behalf, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Larry Stubblefield explained that based on the incident that led Zawity to quit JROTC, the Army will now be making more accommodations for religious headwear in the training program.
“Based on your concerns, the Army has reviewed its JROTC uniform policy and will develop appropriate procedures to provide Cadets the opportunity to request the wear of religious head dress, such as the turban and hijab,” Stubblefield wrote in the letter, made public by CAIR. “This change will allow Miss Zawity and other students the chance to fully participate in the JROTC program.”
Army spokesman George Wright confirmed Stubblefield’s letter to CAIR and explained to The Daily Caller that while JROTC is affiliated with the Army, it is not actually a part of the Army. The new procedures will provide JROTC with a exemption method more similar to current Army procedure mandated through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
That law allows soldiers on active duty to apply for religious accommodation if they want to alter their uniforms in accordance with their religious beliefs. The exemptions are applied on a case-by-case basis. Soldiers who are transferred must reapply.
“Requests for ETP [exemptions to policy] to uniform and grooming standards (AR 670-1) based on religion, are considered on a case by case basis and balanced against military necessity ETPs are temporary, cannot be guaranteed at all times, not liberally granted, and may be revoked due to changed conditions,” Army regulations state.
According to Wright, currently there are three Sikhs and one Orthodox Jewish rabbi who have been approved to wear religious garb outside of their standard regulation uniform on active duty. One female Army captain has applied to wear the hijab for religious observance. Her case is pending.
Still, political commentator Jed Babbin, a former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, noted that the point of a uniform is uniformity.
“Look at the word: ‘uni’-’form’ — everybody wears the same thing,” Babbin told TheDC. “The military is by its own nature diverse and creates a culture in which everyone, regardless of their race or creed, is blended into one force for a common purpose. This [uniform exemption] divides it, balkanizes it on religious grounds… the point of JROTC is to get you ready for ROTC in college which is preparing you to go on active duty. So if you are going to allow it for ROTC? Why don’t you allow it on active duty?”
CAIR, though, cheered that now Muslims and Sikhs will be able to fully participate in JROTC while wearing their religious attire.
“We welcome the fact that Muslim and Sikh students nationwide will now be able to participate fully in JROTC leadership activities while maintaining their religious beliefs and practices,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad in a statement.