Muslim soldier says she will sue Army for allegedly forcing her to remove hijab
© Courtesy of Military Religious Freedom Foundation

A Muslim soldier said she is preparing to sue the U.S. Army after her command sergeant major allegedly forced her to remove her hijab in front of others.

Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos, a member the 704th Brigade Support Battalion who converted to Islam in 2016, told Yahoo! in a recent interview that her brigade commander, Col. David Zinn, granted her permission in June to wear a hijab while in uniform.

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But Valdovinos told the publication that from that time forward, she experienced "extremely hateful" behavior because of her religion. 

"I got called a 'terrorist.' I got called 'ISIS.' I hear comments that I’m the reason why 9/11 happened," Valdovinos told Yahoo!. "There’s a lot of anger and animosity."

Valdovinos said she filed a complaint with the military's Equal Opportunity Office last month, however, after her command sergeant major allegedly pulled her out of rank and ordered her to remove her head covering in front of her colleagues.

"I felt embarrassed and religiously raped in a sense," Valdovinos said in an email to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a nonprofit advocacy organization that is currently representing her, according to Yahoo!.

"My religious preference is only to unveil in front of my husband in the comfort of my own home," she continued.

With the help of MRFF, Valdovinos reportedly filed an official complaint with the Military Equal Opportunity Office (MEO) over the incident shortly thereafter.

In the complaint, Valdovinos reportedly alleges she was removed from her post as a "culinary arts specialist" because of her "religious preference to not handle pork" and claims she was referred to as "the girl with the hood" by her sergeant, among a number of other incidents, according to Yahoo. 

Though her MEO complaint was reportedly found to be "unsubstantiated," Valdovinos told the publication she now intends to take legal action against the U.S. Army for infringing upon her First Amendment rights by violating her freedom of religion.

However, according to a statement from Valdovinos’s brigade officer that was obtained by Yahoo!, a commander’s inquiry into her allegations was found to have "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," the statement adds. "We value diversity within our ranks and will continue to embrace our differences, which make us a stronger more well-rounded team of cohesive, highly-trained Soldiers prepared to answer our Nation’s call anytime, anywhere."

In a statement to The Hill on Wednesday, Mikey Weinstein, the founder of MRFF and a former U.S. Air Force officer, said that Valdovinos "has been the tragic victim of a pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice of wretched anti-Muslim prejudice, bigotry, bullying and harassment by her superiors in the United States Army.”

Weinstein described Valdovinos’ experiences as a “constant Islamophobic tyranny” and said MRFF will assist her in filing “an aggressive civil rights law suit against the Army to stop this perverse oppression being unconstitutionally levied against her.”

“This civil rights litigation will serve as a bright light example for any others in the U.S. armed forces who might consider engaging in similar despotism,” he added.

-- Updated at 4:37 p.m.