Press Release from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Oct. 18, 2011:
CAIR: Tenn. Muslim Student Barred from JROTC Over Hijab
Muslim civil rights group asks school, DOD to accommodate religious rights
(WASHINGTON, D.C., 10/18/11) — A prominent national Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization is calling on a Tennessee school district and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to change a policy being used to effectively bar a Muslim student in that state from participating in a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) class because she wears an Islamic head scarf, or hijab.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says the 14-year-old student at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood, Tenn., was forced to transfer out of the class after her JROTC commanding officers told her she could not wear hijab while marching in the September homecoming parade. SEE: JROTC’s Headscarf Rule Keeps Girl from Parade, Spurs Bias Claim (Tennessean)
“We hear much about the need for American Muslims to integrate in our society, which makes it all the more upsetting that a Muslim student’s beliefs and practices bar her from participating in a patriotic endeavor,” said CAIR Staff Attorney Gadeir Abbas, who is working with the girl’s family to seek religious accommodation.
After being contacted by the student’s family, CAIR contacted both the school district and the DOD to seek constitutionally-protected religious accommodations for the girl and for future Muslim JROTC participants.
In its letter to the school district, CAIR Legal Counsel Nadhira Al-Khalili wrote in part:
“It is unconscionable that a school district would enforce a third party’s discriminatory policy. This failure to protect religious rights sends a negative message to students of all faiths and sets a precedent that could be used to restrict the rights of future JROTC participants … We do not believe that a prohibition on students wearing religiously-mandated head coverings serves any compelling governmental interest.”
In her letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Al-Khalili wrote:
“As it stands, existing policy effectively bars any Muslim female student wearing hijab from inclusion in the JROTC. This policy of denial sends a message of exclusion to all Muslims and should be amended.”
CAIR offers a booklet, called “An Educator’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices,” designed to help school officials provide a positive learning environment for Muslim students.
CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect