Monday, June 17, 2019

Weinstein: Army gave hijab report to news, not to alleged victim

Posted By on Mon, Jun 17, 2019 at 6:03 PM

click to enlarge Cesilia Valdovinos: The Army says she wasn't discriminated against. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Cesilia Valdovinos: The Army says she wasn't discriminated against.

Fort Carson's investigation of a religious discrimination complaint regarding a Muslim soldier who was ordered to remove her hijab in public has cleared Command Sergeant Major Kerstin Montoya, the Gazette reported.

But an organization representing the soldier, Cesilia Valdovinos, says not only is the investigation's conclusion wrong, but the Army provided a copy of the full report to the Gazette  and not to Valdovinos.

According to the Gazette, the report said anti-Muslim feelings linger in the ranks nearly two decades after the United States invaded Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by Islamic radicals.

Then commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Col. David Zinn ordered Capt. Jeremey Kinder to investigate. He delivered a 67-page report, which was given to the Gazette.  Mikey Weinstein says the report wasn't given to Valdovinos.

Weinstein runs the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which has stepped in to help Valdovinos file a lawsuit in federal court alleging religious discrimination and civil rights violations.

The March 6 incident at issue took place at Fort Carson during a class on suicide prevention. Montoya demanded that Valdovinos remove her hijab so she could inspect whether her hair, which should be worn in a bun beneath the scarf, met regulations. Montoya determined that it did not, and ordered her to comply.

Valdovinos told the Independent at that time she felt defiled, because her religion allows only her husband to see her hair, and the incident occurred without privacy. (She had obtained a religious accommodation letter from Zinn in June 2018.) Moreover, Valdovinos says Montoya grabbed her by the arm. Carson officials disputed that, but an eyewitness told the Indy that Valdovinos, indeed, was grabbed.

In a previous statement about the incident, the Mountain Post said Army leaders respect soldiers’ right to practice their faith without fear of prejudice or repercussion, but even obtaining an accommodation doesn’t mean they’re not subject to inspection for compliance with Army regulations that specify how a hijab should be worn. Fort Carson officials say that Valdovinos was clearly out of compliance on the day in question; that she wasn’t grabbed, but simply taken aside; and that she was in the presence of two female superiors when she removed the head covering.

A few weeks after Valdovinos filed her complaint, she was demoted for alleged inappropriate contact with a soldier while in Afghanistan in 2018, which Fort Carson officials say is unrelated to her recent hijab controversy. Valdovinos, formerly a sergeant, suffered a reduction in rank and a pay cut. She alleged the action stemmed from the hijab incident and not the overseas encounter, about which she maintained her innocence.

The investigation of the hijab issue led Kinder to conclude, according to the Gazette, "I find that better communication with all parties involved would have de-escalated the situation and recommend that future inspections of a personal nature be conducted in complete privacy.”
Weinstein tells the Indy via email that MRFF is "quite literally outraged" to learn the Army gave a report to the daily newspaper while not providing one to Valdovinos herself.

"The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is hard at work preparing to assist our client to aggressively sue the United States Army in Federal District Court for the blatant violations of her civil rights by Fort Carson leadership," Weinstein says.

He says Carson's failure to provide the complainant who triggered the investigation with a copy of the report "only further buttresses our position that the Fort Carson leadership has engaged in a pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice of particularly hideous anti-Muslim bigotry, prejudice, harassment and bullying."

The Indy asked Fort Carson for the report but hasn't heard back. We also asked why Valdovinos allegedly didn't get a copy of the report. We'll circle back when and if we hear anything.

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