Muslim Soldier Claims Persecution with Mikey Weinstein’s Help

As has now been widely reported, US Army SPC Cesilia Valdovinos — who converted to Islam in March 2016 — has claimed discrimination over her wear of the hijab, for which she was granted a religious accommodation just last summer. According to Valdovinos, a senior enlisted leader required her to remove her hijab to prove her hair was being correctly worn underneath it. (While the accommodation was granted, she is still required to maintain certain standards, even under the hijab.) The reason for the “inspection” was the belief her hair was not properly maintained while under her hijab, as was required. When she removed the hijab, her hair was, indeed, down — though Valdovinos says it was because it was held up by the hijab itself. Valdovinos apparently found this exchange inappropriate and filed an EO complaint.

There are aspects to this story on both sides that make it somewhat interesting. First, even if she was absolutely correct and within her authority, it does seem Command Sergeant Major Kerstin Montoya could have handled the situation better. In fact, it seems Valdovinos was again asked a couple of weeks later to prove she was wearing her hair correctly — but she was asked to step into a bathroom to do so. The second incident appears to have been an attempt to acknowledge the “private” nature of the hijab.

Second, it appears Valdovinos had already established herself as a “problem child”. Valdovinos was a Sergeant a couple of weeks ago, but she’s been demoted after receiving an Article 15 for an incident regarding an “inappropriate relationship” downrange, wholly unrelated to this incident. While Valdovinos claims it was a misunderstanding, Weinstein admits the incident was a punishable offense. Regardless, Valdovinos has apparently highlighted herself within her unit, and not in a good way. She also admits that she recently complained about having to handle pork — she’s an Army “culinary specialist” — and then she apparently complained when she was transferred out of the kitchen (which would seem to be an appropriate response to her inability to do her job). All told, Valdovinos appears to have built a bit of a reputation, deserved or not. While that does not justify inappropriate behavior toward her, it does explain why something seemingly minor might escalate into a major case. In fairness, much the same was true for US Marine LCpl Monifa Sterling, whose combative relationships with her superiors similarly exacerbated what eventually became a case almost all the way to the US Supreme Court.

For his part, Mikey Weinstein appears content to play the fool. In an apparent effort to add sensational fuel to the story, Weinstein claimed Valdovinos had “exhausted her administrative remedies” and he was “considering” filing a lawsuit, something that was repeated in headlines that claimed Valdovinos herself was suing (which does not appear to be borne out by the facts). In reality, Valdovinos has filed exactly one EO complaint, and nothing more. That’s hardly “exhausting” anything. As to Weinstein’s threat, he’s been saying for years he’d file a lawsuit over one thing or another, and he has repeatedly, and impotently, failed to follow through. (Do a web search for how many times Weinstein claimed a lawsuit filing was going to be “immediate” or that someone would have to “tell it to the judge.”)

The few times Weinstein did file a religious liberty lawsuit (the last was almost a decade ago), he lost — Every. Single. Time. Weinstein has then declined to file an appeal (despite passionately claiming he would file a “very aggressive” appeal). The reason, of course, is that Weinstein’s “clients” are little more than pawns. Valdovinos is a tool for Weinstein to get publicity and funding. He’ll drop her as soon as her persecution story wanes in the press — though he’ll do his best to make it last. He may even yet file a lawsuit, knowing it will be dismissed out of hand. But it will fan the flames for just a few months — and a few dollars — more.  When it is over, Valdovinos will join the ranks of Chalker, Kucera, Kayne, Hall, Klawonn, and more.  Don’t recognize those names?  The road to Mikey Weinstein’s substantial paycheck is littered with the carcasses of the abandoned troops Weinstein claimed he would passionately represent.

Weinstein — who frequently touts an unverified claim that he “represents” more than 18% of all Muslims in the US military — also put his foot in his mouth when he said [emphasis added]:

This is an absolutely quintessential example of some of the worst anti-Muslim bigotry, prejudice and harassment that we have seen.”

If a superior NCO/officer asking a subordinate to validate the proper wear of their uniform accommodation is the “worst” bigotry Weinstein has seen, then it would seem the US military is doing pretty well.

Incidentally, the EO investigation is apparently complete [emphasis added]:

“A commander’s inquiry found allegations against a senior non-commissioned officer were unsubstantiated regarding discriminating against Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos,” [Col David] Zinn said in the statement. “The inquiry concluded that the senior noncommissioned officer acted appropriately by enforcing the proper wear of the hijab, in compliance with Army regulations.

In an interesting bit of timing, while this was in the news US Air Force Capt Maysaa Ouza was also in the news. She’s an Air Force JAG — and she also wears a hijab.  (She was highlighted here in 2017).

Spc Valdovinos should not be harassed for wearing a hijab, just as a Sikh should not be harassed for wearing a beard, a Jew should not be harassed for asking off for a religious observance, and a Christian should not be harassed for having a Bible on his desk. Religious exercise is protected by the US Constitution, and Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines should be allowed to exercise that right — to the maximum extent permitted by the mission.

Notably, Mikey Weinstein generally supports restricting the free exercise of Christians, and he’ll claim there is a “time, place, and manner” trump card over religious liberty. In principle, then, Spc Valdovinos needs to acquiesce to the “manner” in which she can wear her hijab. She’s allowed to do so, within set parameters — which includes how she wears her hair and her vulnerability to questions about it. Of course, you won’t hear Mikey say that, as his personal agenda overrides any seemingly obvious principled consistency.