Law School Case Brief
Goldman v. Weinberger - 475 U.S. 503, 106 S. Ct. 1310 (1986)
The United States Supreme Court's review of military regulations challenged on First Amendment, U.S. Const. amend. I, grounds is far more deferential than constitutional review of similar laws or regulations designed for civilian society.
An Air Force regulation relating to uniforms prohibits members of the Air Force from wearing headgear while indoors, except for headgear for armed security police in the performance of their duties. An Air Force officer who was serving as a clinical psychologist at a mental health clinic on an Air Force base, and who was an Orthodox Jew and an ordained rabbi, had been wearing a yarmulke (skullcap) while he was on duty indoors, and he had been wearing a service cap over his yarmulke while he was outdoors. The officer was informed by his hospital commander that wearing a yarmulke while on duty indoors was a violation of an Air Force regulation relating to uniforms, the officer was ordered to discontinue wearing a yarmulke while on duty indoors, and the officer was warned that failure to obey the regulation could subject him to a court-martial. In the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the officer brought suit against the Secretary of Defense and others, claiming that application of the Air Force regulation to prevent him from wearing his yarmulke infringed on his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. The District Court granted the officer injunctive relief against application of the regulation to his wearing of a yarmulke, but the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, holding that the Air Force's interest in uniformity rendered the strict enforcement of its regulation permissible, and the Court of Appeals denied a petition for rehearing en banc.
Does the First Amendment require the military to accommodate such religious practices as an Orthodox Jew's wearing of a yarmulke?
On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, inter alia, (1) when evaluating whether military needs justify a particular restriction on religiously motivated conduct, courts must give great deference to the professional judgment of military authorities concerning the relative importance of a particular military interest; (2) military officials are under no constitutional mandate to abandon their professional judgment as to the desirability of dress regulations for military personnel; (3) the First Amendment does not require the military to accommodate such religious practices as an Orthodox Jew's wearing of a yarmulke in the face of the military's view that such practices would detract from the uniformity sought by the dress regulations, where an Air Force regulation, drawing the line essentially between religious apparel which is visible and that which is not, reasonably and evenhandedly regulates dress in the interest of the military's perceived need for uniformity; and (4) the First Amendment therefore does not preclude an Air Force regulation relating to uniforms from being applied so as to prohibit an Orthodox Jew's wearing of a yarmulke even though the effect is to restrict the wearing of the headgear required by his religious beliefs.
Access the full text case
Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.
Be Sure You're Prepared for Class