A Tennessee high school freshman wasn’t allowed to march in her school’s homecoming parade last month because of her Muslim head scarf and is now trying to change U.S. Army policy as a result.
Demin Zawity, a Junior ROTC member at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood, Tenn., contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations after she was barred from participating in the homecoming parade because her head scarf wasn’t allowed.
Under U.S. Army policy, full head coverings are prohibited during official uniformed ceremonies.
Zawity said she quit the program, an elective, after her commanding officer told her she would have to remove her head scarf if she wanted to march in the parade.
“I was like, you’ve got to be kidding me. I wanted to just break down crying right there,” Zawity told Nashville’s WTVF-TV. “They’re telling me I’m not allowed to march in the parade just because of a piece of cloth wrapped around my head. And to me it’s not like it’s just a piece of cloth, to me, it’s like my symbol.”
Zawity asked if an exception could be made for religious circumstances, and her commanding officer said he would see what he could do, according to Fox News. But both school officials and district lawyers ultimately decided if she was going to participate, she would have to be dressed like every other member, in accordance with U.S. Army policy.
“We as a school system are bound to the regulations of the Army. We cannot conduct the program unless we follow the regulations,” said Jason Golden, chief operating officer and general counsel for the school district.
CAIR is calling on both the school district and Department of Defense to reverse a policy that it says “effectively bars a Muslim student from participating in the class.”
“It’s an unwise policy,” CAIR attorney Gadeir Abbas told Fox News. “It’s acceptable for a Jewish student to wear his yarmulke under his uniform hat. The regulations already reflect that there are religious obligations among members.”
Lt. Col. Matthew Hackathorn, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Cadet Command, said the cases are different because a yarmulke can be covered by military headgear, whereas head scarves cannot.
Perishan Hussein, the teenager’s mother, said her daughter felt as though the school district was “dismissive” of her beliefs, and said her head scarf should not have been a surprise to anyone since she wears it every day.
“It’s the American process,” Hussein said of getting CAIR involved to petition the government. “We make rules, regulations, laws, and later on down the line we find out they may not work, so we make amendments to change those laws.”
Both the family and CAIR said they do not plan to sue over the policy unless they deem it necessary. In addition to a policy change, they want an apology from the school district and for Zawity to be allowed to participate in the program again.
Hackathorn said the commanding officer at the school acted in accordance with policy and defended the uniform requirements, saying they instill “personal responsibility, attention to detail and being part of a team.”
“We’re not discriminatory. She’s invited to come back anytime, but it has to be in accordance with the regulations,” he said.