Sargent Cesilia Valdovinos is currently involved in filing a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Army, over allegations that her first amendment right to religious freedom has been violated. Valdovinos converted to Islam in 2016 and had received some negativity and resentment during her terms of service. However, when she decided to wear her hijab with her uniform the violations against her first amendment rights became unbearable.

According to Valdovinos, she was granted permission by her commanding officer to wear her hijab with her uniform in June of 2018. She claims that ever since this request was granted she has experienced an intensification of discrimination and harassment. This discrimination and harassment have come from both her fellow soldiers and from the majority of her commanding officers. However, the lawsuit specifically comes from an incident that took place during a training exercise. During the training exercise, a commanding sergeant reportedly made her remove her hijab in public.

As a convert to Islam, Valdovinos religion does not allow her to remove her hijab in public. As a Muslim, she is only permitted to remove her hijab in the presence of her husband or in the comfort of her own home. When she was forced to remove her hijab in the presence of her colleagues she claims that her religious rights had been violated and that in a sense she felt religiously raped in front of her colleagues.

She promptly filed a complaint with the office of the Military Equal Opportunity Office (MEO). However, the MEO determined after conducting its own internal investigation that the complaint was unsubstantiated. The findings of the MEO was that the actions of the commanding officer were consistent in enforcing the correct wearing of the hijab. Valdovinos hair was reportedly against regulations underneath the hijab and needed to be corrected.

Valdovinos has countered that it was impossible to see her hair underneath the hijab. Also, she maintains that she was never asked about her hair when she was commanded to remove her hijab in public. She maintains that this was in clear violation of her first amendment right to religious freedom. Valdovinos’ religious beliefs deem it necessary and proper to wear her hair concealed in a hijab while outside of her home. According to her religion, it is improper for a woman to display her hair to anyone else except her husband and immediate family.

After her complaint was dismissed by the MEO, Valdovinos claims that her pay was reduced to about $1,300 a month after being demoted. Though the army maintains that she was demoted for other reasons, that had nothing to do with her complaint. The army and the MEO maintain that there was no discrimination or harassment against Valdovinos. The U.S. Army claims that she was demoted for legitimate performance issues which had nothing to do with her religious beliefs or affiliations.

Valdovinos is currently working with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), who is filling the federal lawsuit against the U.S. Army on her behalf. The MRFF has maintained that her civil rights have been violated. They cite this incident with Valdovinos as an example of the U.S. Army’s systemic Islamophobia. They have petitioned congresswoman Ilhan Omar to lend her support to their lawsuit. Omar is one of the first Muslim women ever elected to congress. However, she has not yet responded either for or against their requests for support.