A soldier who says she was discriminated against for being Muslim when she was forced to remove her hijab in front of her colleagues plans on suing the Army.
Cesilia Valdovinos, 26, claims her command sergeant major, pulled her out of rank during a suicide-prevention briefing in Ft. Carson, Colorado, and made her take off her hijab in front of her colleagues.
She filed an official complaint with the Military Equal Opportunity Office on March 7 with the help of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), but the Army found it to be ‘unsubstantiated’ and dismissed her claim.
Col. David Zinn, granted approval for her to wear her hijab with her uniform in June of last year, but Valdovinos says that since then her religious headgear has sparked ‘extremely hateful’ behavior and harassment.
‘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.’
After allegedly being forced to take down her hijab in front of others, the soldier told the MRFF that she felt ‘religiously raped in a sense.’
‘My religious preference is only to unveil in front of my husband in the comfort of my own home,’ said Valdovinos.
Mikey Weinstein of the MRFF said the Muslim sergeant was embarrassed on multiple occasions by Command Sgt. Maj. Kerstin Montoya.
‘This is nothing more than the worst type of Muslim bigotry, prejudice, and harassment,’ Weinstein told Fox 21.
Montoya allegedly accused Valdovinos of wearing her hair down under the hijab in violation of Army regulation.
‘She must have x-ray vision because she can see under the hijab and see her hair if it was down, but it was perfectly up,’ said Weinstein.
‘A commander’s inquiry found allegations against a senior non-commissioned officer were unsubstantiated regarding discriminating against Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos,’ Fort Carson said in a statement responding to the allegations.
‘The inquiry concluded that the senior non-commissioned officer acted appropriately by enforcing the proper wear of the hijab, in compliance with Army Regulations.’
‘Our leaders are committed to supporting Soldiers’ freedom of religious expression. I have, and will continue to, take all reports of Soldiers disrespecting religious beliefs, observances, or traditions very seriously,’ added Col. Zinn.
‘I will ensure our unit continues to place a high value on the rights of our Soldiers to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all.’
The Army policy toward religious garments such as turbans and hijabs was updated in 2017 expressly accommodating them with certain requirements.
After her complaint was dismissed, Valdovinos says she was demoted from sergeant to specialist, which also came with a substantial cut in her pay.
She says that the incident has also made her and her 7-year-old daughter targets of increased harassment.
The MRFF plans to file the federal lawsuit against the U.S. Army on behalf of Valdovinos, for what it calls the ‘blatant Islamophobic harassment, bigotry and prejudice of the worst type.’
Valdovinos says she intends on continuing her military career, despite her accusations of discrimination, and hopes to inspire other her fellow active-duty Muslims that ‘it’s okay to stand up for what you believe.’