Mikey Weinstein Defends Wiccan Hindu Fired at Fort Meade

Update: In a letter to the MRFF, Deborah Schoenfeld publicly confirmed she was a government contractor, which means the US military was not responsible for her hiring or firing, despite Mikey Weinstein’s implications to the contrary.  Weinstein’s public excoriation of the military — as opposed to her actual former employer — appears to have been little more than a publicity stunt, using “witch” references for shock value and attention.

Michael “Mikey” Weinstein has come to the defense of Deborah Schoenfeld, a civilian dental technician at Fort Meade who claims she was fired after filing an Equal Opportunity complaint claiming religious discrimination:

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is representing a former Air Force contractor who says she was fired from a dental clinic at Fort Meade, Maryland, after complaining that her co-workers discriminated against her because she was Hindu.  She claims they then accused her of being a witch.

In his public complaint, Weinstein says 

For the record, Ms. Schoenfeld practices the Hindu religion and has interest in Wiccan practices.

That seems to match her public Facebook profile, which has a smattering of Hindu ceremonies and references to wicca/witchcraft (including the playful photo above).

No person should be subject to religious discrimination within the military, nor should their employment be contingent upon their religious beliefs. If it is true Schoenfeld was suffering such treatment, then she is right to now publicly complain.

That said, there is clearly more to the story.

The most obvious issue:  It is unlikely the military fired Schoenfeld.

It appears Schoenfeld was a contractor, likely for inGenesis, which provides contract dental services at Fort Meade. This means that if Schoenfeld was indeed “fired,” her employer inGenesis fired her, not the military. If that’s true, Weinstein is aiming at the wrong target — and he may even know it. Weinstein made a point of using the passive voice in the complaint to say “she was swiftly fired…”, coyly not saying who fired her, and he notably does not demand that the Air Force flight commander LtCol Dennis Holt re-hire her — which is likely outside his authority.

Schoenfeld’s status as a contractor is also significant because except in specific circumstances, contractors don’t have access to the military’s Equal Opportunity system. So while she may have filed an EO complaint (presumably with the military, though the complaint doesn’t say), if her employer didn’t have a specific agreement in place, it would have been summarily dismissed for lack of purview. Weinstein alleges she was fired the very day she made the EO complaint.

Without intending to diminish the substance of Schoenfeld’s complaint, it appears (absent further information) that Weinstein isn’t being entirely forthright in his accusation that

Ms. Schoenfeld’s basic Constitutional civil rights have been obliterated and ripped asunder.

The substance of Schoenfeld’s complaints are listed in eight bullets in Weinstein’s letter to the Dental Squadron commander.

One complaint deals with reprisal for the EO complaint, already discussed above. Two were vague complaints about not knowing who was complaining about her and having her “career…derailed” which aren’t generally actionable.

Four complaints deal with people criticizing her beliefs. Again, absent context, it is difficult to know if this is actually actionable. For example, in a discussion among peers that delved into religion, it is not unforeseeable that a non-Hindu might say they believed yoga was “satanic,” which is one of her complaints. Such a conversation would not necessarily be impermissible.  Importantly, left out of Weinstein’s letter is Schoenfeld’s role in the conversations. Judging by her own public statements, she can be “feisty” at times, as well.

Ultimately, simply having one’s beliefs questioned or even criticized is not inherently impermissible or even actionable by the military, and that premise constitutes the primary substance of her complaints.

Her final complaint is self-contradictory. First, Weinstein says

She was advised by her chain of command to pray against the recent Supreme Court ruling against same sex marriage, as it is “an abomination to their religion”.

However, Weinstein immediately follows the statement with a parenthetical — which looks as if it was intended to be edited out of the letter before it was sent:

(an employee in the office wanted all the civilians to pray against the legalization of same sex marriage at a clinic meeting)

“An employee” saying something at an office meeting is vastly different than being ordered by one’s chain of command to do something, yet Weinstein presents the two statements side-by-side. Absent other facts, it appears Weinstein “sensationalized” the complaint by stretching the truth. (Further, contractors don’t strictly have a military “chain of command” to begin with.)

Religious harassment by superiors certainly has no place in the US military. If that is truly what occurred, then the wrong against Deborah Schoenfeld should be righted.

If that isn’t what occurred, however — if the conversations about religion were among peers, if Schoenfeld was terminated by her employer for behavior, as alleged — then Schoenfeld may be upset, but she may not have an actionable complaint.  That would be a far cry from “the brazen establishment of evangelical Christianity” Weinstein claims was responsible for her termination.

At present, there remain some significant questions as to whether Mikey Weinstein’s characterizations of Schoenfeld’s situation is complete or even accurate. Given his history of embellishing the truth, he can’t be granted the benefit of the doubt. Once those significant issues are clarified, then, if appropriate, action can be demanded — from the right institution, in the right way.

Until then, to Schoenfeld’s detriment, the “demand” from Mikey Weinstein carries little credibility.