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.
Group founder and president Mikey Weinstein wrote in a letter to officials: “We have spoken with witnesses at the clinic under your command who have universally confirmed that, not only did this horrid harassment take place, but ever since the execution of her punishment for failing the religious test imposed by the leadership of Epes Dental Clinic, a particular offending party has effusively celebrated her replacement by a Catholic woman by saying publicly that ‘It's good to see we got an angel, since last time we had the devil.’”
The alleged harassment violates a “vast sea" of Defense Department and Air Force directives as well as the U.S. Constitution, Weinstein writes.
"The No Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of our nation’s Constitution absolutely forbids the exact same type of practices which are so commonplace under your command in the brazen establishment of evangelical Christianity as the only approved solution for religious belief in the 579th D[ental] S[quadron] of the Epes Dental Clinic at Fort Meade,” the letter says.
Reached by Air Force Times, Deborah Schoenfeld said that her co-workers at the Epes Dental Clinic harassed her over her Hindu faith, claiming she was satanic for wanting to practice yoga and meditating.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, two of her former co-workers confirmed Schoenfeld's account to Air Force Times and said that other employees at the dental clinic are devoutly Christian and deeply suspicious of Hinduism. One of them confirmed that she was referred to as a "Hindu witch."
One co-worker, who Schoenfeld said prayed for her to find Jesus, told her that meditation summons demons, adding that “all the soldiers who are doing meditation and yoga to help their PTSD, they are getting infected also,” Schoenfeld said.
When her requests for help through the chain of command went nowhere, she filed a formal complaint on Sept. 2, Schoenfeld said. That day, she was fired for allegedly using profanity against a co-worker, although she was not allowed to know who had accused her of doing so, she said.
The Air Force District of Washington has received Weinstein's letter and is looking into the allegations raised, said spokesman Maj. Joel Harper.
"The Air Force thoroughly reviews all instances in which airmen report concerns regarding religious freedoms or accommodations," Harper wrote in an email Monday to Air Force Times. "Mutual respect is an essential part of the Air Force culture. Supporting the right of free exercise of religion relates directly to the Air Force core values and the ability to maintain an effective team."