JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioner S. Simcha Goldman contends that the Free Exercise Clause of the
First Amendment to the United States Constitution permits him to wear a
yarmulke while in uniform, notwithstanding an Air Force regulation mandating
uniform dress for Air Force personnel....
Petitioner Goldman is an Orthodox Jew and ordained rabbi. In 1973, he was
accepted into the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program and
placed on inactive reserve status in the Air Force while he studied clinical
psychology at Loyola University of Chicago. During his three years in the
scholarship program, he received a monthly stipend and an allowance for
tuition, books, and fees. After completing his Ph.D. in psychology,
petitioner entered active service in the United States Air Force as a
commissioned officer, in accordance with a requirement that participants in
the scholarship program serve one year of active duty for each year of
subsidized education. Petitioner was stationed at March Air Force Base in
Riverside, California, and served as a clinical psychologist at the mental
health clinic on the base.
Until 1981, petitioner was not prevented from wearing his yarmulke on the
base. He avoided controversy by remaining close to his duty station in the
health clinic and by wearing his service cap over the yarmulke when out of
doors. But in April 1981, after he testified as a defense witness at a
court-martial wearing his yarmulke but not his service cap, opposing counsel
lodged a complaint with Colonel Joseph Gregory, the Hospital Commander,
arguing that petitioner's practice of wearing his yarmulke was a violation
of Air Force Regulation (AFR) 35-10. This regulation states in pertinent
part that "[headgear] will not be worn . . . [while] indoors except by
armed security police in the performance of their duties."