A survey conducted by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that Muslim Americans are just as likely to join the military as any other demographic within the country’s general population.
Conducted by the nonprofit, non-partisan organization between February and March of this year, the 2022 American Muslim Poll surveyed more than 2,100 adults, with around 800 identifying as Muslim, nearly 300 as Jewish and the remaining 1,000 representing the general population.
Despite being less likely to hold U.S. citizenship compared to other groups — roughly four out of five Muslims interviewed were U.S. citizens compared to the 92% to 99% citizenship rate of other groups — answers by Muslim respondents indicated a willingness to serve at a similar or higher rate when compared to other demographics.
Eleven percent of Muslim respondents said they would serve, a number exceeding the 10% of Catholics and Protestants and the 9% of non-religious participants polled.
White Muslims, meanwhile, indicated the highest likelihood of military service compared to their non-white counterparts, with 17% of those polled responding affirmatively versus 4% of Asian Muslims and less than one percent of Arab Muslims.
And while Black Muslims were also found to be more willing to serve than Arab practitioners, they were also found to be just as likely as Black non-Muslims to sign their names on the dotted line.
Perhaps most surprising, however, was the finding that white Muslims polled were actually more likely to join than white non-Muslims, with 17% of white Muslims and 11% of white non-Muslims indicating a willingness to serve.
The survey comes amid a period of intense discussion regarding religion in the military, with the topic frequenting headlines as service members continue various legal battles for religious expression.
The Army, Navy and Air Force all have policies protecting the religious expression of service members — including Sikhs and Muslims — with few exceptions, such as the wearing of turbans in combat.
The Marine Corps, however, does not.
On Aug. 24, 2022, a federal judge denied an appeal of the Marines’ ban on Sikh buns and turbans and the wearing of other religious articles while training. The courtroom loss marked just another chapter in the ongoing fight for such freedoms in the military, said Eric Baxter, senior counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
“No one should have to choose between living according to their faith and serving their country,” Baxter said of the case, which is expected to continue via a federal suit in Washington. “The court’s ruling sets up a false conflict between faith and service — but as the Marines have rightly said for decades, spirituality makes Marines stronger and more resilient.”
Numerous religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccinations may also have been improperly denied by the Defense Department, according to a letter from acting DoD Inspector General Sean O’Donnell to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
In the letter, O’Donnell warned that early findings of a review of the waiver process showed “generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment that is required by Federal law and DoD and Military service policies.”
“The denial memorandums we reviewed generally did not reflect an individualized analysis, demonstrating that the Senior Military Official considered the full range of facts and circumstances relevant to the particular religious accommodation request,” O’Donnell wrote.
“Additionally, the volume and rate at which decisions were made to deny requests is concerning,” O’Donnell continued. “The appeal authorities of the services we reviewed indicated that an average of 50 denials per day were processed over a 90-day period.”
That processing rate means that if reviewers were working 10-hour days, sans breaks, requests would be analyzed no longer than 12 minutes each.
More than 3,400 troops across all services have been involuntarily separated from the military for vaccine refusals, and of those appeals filed, fewer than two dozen have been granted.
The Defense Department’s current stance on religious expression falls under DoD Instruction 1300.17, Religious Liberty in the Military Services, which was unveiled in 2020.
“In furtherance of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” DoD components will “accommodate individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs,” the policy states, provided there are no adverse impacts on readiness and unit cohesion.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran and a master's candidate at New York University's Business & Economic Reporting program.