A Muslim woman enlisted in the United States Army will soon file a federal lawsuit against the military, citing that her First Amendment rights were violated when she was forced to remove her hijab in front of fellow soldiers.
Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos, 26, told Yahoo Lifestyle that the harassment began in June 2018 after she was approved to wear the hijab along with the military uniform by her brigade commander, Col. David Zinn. According to a 2017 rule, soldiers are allowed to wear religious headwear in alignment with their faith as long as they have written permission to do so.
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Valdovinos said that wearing the hijab has made her the target of foul attacks specifically aimed at her faith as a Muslim woman. Valdovinos is currently being represented by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, also known as the MRFF.
“I got called a ‘terrorist.’ I got called ‘ISIS.’ I hear comments that I’m the reason why 9/11 happened,” Valdovinos said. “There’s a lot of anger and animosity.”
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Valdovinos, who converted to Islam in 2016, said she was pushed to a breaking point after she was reprimanded in front of her colleagues during a suicide intervention briefing in Ft. Carson, Colorado on March 6, according to the Army Times. Valdovinos described an excrutiating and degrading encounter were she said the acting command sergeant (Sgt. Maj. Kerstin Montoya) grabbed her by the arm and forced her to remove her hijab in front of her colleagues.
“I felt embarrassed and religiously raped in a sense,” Valdovinos wrote in an email to the (MRFF), which was obtained Yahoo.”My religious preference is only to unveil in front of my husband in the comfort of my own home.”
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Valdovino took action with due process and filed a formal complaint with the Army’s Military Equal Opportunity Office (MEO) listing the previous incidents which raised alarm, including being referred to as “the girl with the hood,” but they found her complaint to be “unsubstantiated.”
In an interview with the Army Times, another soldier who witnessed the act with Valdovinos and Montoya, combatted Valdovinos’ claims saying the she was asked to take off the hijab in order to ensure that she was in compliance with the Army’s hair regulations.
But Valdovinos says that was not the case, that her hair only came undone after she removed the hijab and the undercap underneath the hijab. She also maintains that it would have been impossible to determine with her hair concealed underneath the hijab.
Sgt. Zinn released a summary to Yahoo which said the senior officer “acted appropriately by enforcing the proper wear of the hijab, in compliance with Army Regulations.”
Since the incident Valdovinos said she was demoted from sergeant to specialist, which has spurred psychological, financial and emotional damage. Valdovinos claimed her enlistment in the military was inspired by her grandfather who served the nation in the Vietnam war. “He was very passionate about what he did and I just wanted to show my family that both male and female can do what we need to do and serve in this country,” she said.
The MRFF hopes to enlist the help of Muslim congresswoman Rep. Ilhan Omar, who waged her own battle on the floors of congress to allow Muslim women to wear their hijab in the halls of Capitol Hill.
“This serious attempt to marginalize, dehumanize, trivialize the religious faith of a member in standing. We will not let this stand,” said Mikey Weinstein, a former U.S. Air Force officer and founder of MRFF, in a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle.
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