By Bassel Barakat
A Muslim soldier in the U.S. army was forced to remove her religious scarf in front of others as an order by her command sergeant major.
The sergeant grabbed Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos, 26, by the arm, took her outside the chapel and made her remove her hijab while she has an approved exemption from her brigade commander to wear a hijab in uniform.
“To me, it was the same thing as if they had asked someone to take their top off,” the soldier, a member of the 704th Brigade Support Battalion, said.
According to Valdovinos, nobody had asked her if her hair was in a regulation bun before demanding that she remove the garment.
Sgt. Maj. Kerstin Montoya wanted her to completely fully expose her head scarf after she took off the scarf portion of the covering first. When she took off the cap underneath, which was covering her hairline and her chin, the length of hair came loose from its bun. She said.
A battalion adjutant accompanied both Valdovinos and Montoya for the inspection, says that the “senior NCO tapped the sergeant on her shoulder before leading her outside of the chapel.”
“Upon removing her hijab it was evident her hair was completely down,” Capt. Brooke Smith said in a statement.
“CSM Montoya told her to get her hair back in regulation and not let it happen again. At no point did CSM Montoya touch the soldier or yell at her (at all or within earshot of other soldiers).”
Valdovinos said that her hair came loose when she remover the under-cap, because the under-cap has an extra length of fabric inside and she wraps around her bun to tide it before pulling the cap down.
It is the first time that the soldier had ever been confronted about her religious scarf. However, she always felt threatened as a Muslim soldier in the army.
Previously, she reassigned from an on-post dining facility after she refused to cook pork products. Voldavinos filed a complaint on March 7.
Also, another soldier described her as a terrorist and the captain did not escalate her claim.
“I take all reports of soldiers disrespecting another soldier’s religious beliefs, observances, or traditions very seriously,” Col. David Zinn, the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division commander who signed Valdovinos’ exemption memo, said in a statement. “There is currently an inquiry regarding Sgt. Valdovinos’ claim. I will ensure our unit continues our tradition of placing a high value on the rights of our soldiers to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all.”
“Unless this CSM, who wretchedly denigrated our MRFF client by ordering her to take off her hijab in public, enjoys the extraordinary powers of X-ray vision, it would have been impossible for this CSM to have even seen the hair of our MRFF client,” Mikey Weinstein, the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation said in a statement.
“I wish they would just ask me if they have questions,” Valdovinos said.
In 2017, the U.S. army allowed religious headgear for soldiers who faith requires it. According to the regulation, the hijab must not cover the face, must be a solid color in matching camouflage to the uniform of the day and that the ends must be tucked into any uniform top.