Hindu woman fired from US military for 'witchcraft'

This week, a U.S. Air Force dental clinic employee turned to a military religious equality tribunal after allegedly being fired for practising “witchcraft” and “bringing demons into the office” because she was Hindu, practised yoga, and listened to Indian music.

According to reports former Air Force contractor Deborah Schoenfeld used to work as a dental technician at Epes Dental Clinic in Fort Meade, Maryland, until she was sacked on September 2 for, she was told, “using profanity” against one of her co-workers, although she said she was not informed who her accuser was.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which is now representing Ms. Schoenfeld, said the religious harassment that she had to endure included being accused of witchcraft, bringing demons into the office, and being admonished that practicing yoga was “satanic” and would “cost (her) her soul.”

Meanwhile Harsh Voruganti of the Hindu American Foundation community organisation said, “What Deborah faced is something no employee, no matter their faith or lack of faith, should suffer… We demand a full inquiry into her dismissal from the U.S. Air Force, as well as renewed commitments to protect the religious freedom of all military personnel and contractors.”

Local reports quoted two of Ms. Schoenfeld's former co-workers confirming her account of the workplace harassment she was subjected to by “devout Christians" there, with one of them reportedly saying that Ms. Schoenfeld was referred to as a “Hindu witch.”

Michael Weinstein, MRFF president said that Ms. Schoenfeld had suffered “horrid harassment,” adding that one staff member celebrated Schoenfeld being replaced by a Catholic woman by saying: “It's good to see we got an angel, since last time we had the devil.”

In an email to local media Air Force Spokesman Major Joel Harper was quoted saying that the authorities were investigating the allegations and, “The Air Force thoroughly reviews all instances in which airmen report concerns regarding religious freedoms or accommodations.”

In a sharply-worded letter to area and base commanders responsible for oversight at Fort Meade Mr. Weinstein said, “Ms. Schoenfeld is Hindu, not Christian. That fact should have no bearing whatsoever on her ability to perform her duties as a civilian contractor with the United States Air Force… Please let MRFF know immediately what you intend to do to timely remediate this scandalous, actual ‘witch hunt’ and all of its associated transgressions of law and regulation.”

There are a number of Hindus serving in the U.S. military.

Last year, >The Hindu>spoke with Indian-American Pratima Dharm, the first ever Hindu and inter-faith chaplain appointed by the U.S. military, who described counselling soldiers of all religions through PTSD encountered in the battlefields of Iraq, and shared her thoughts on religious diversity in the armed forces more broadly.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2022 3:07:26 pm |