An Air Force clinic at Fort Meade in Maryland is under scrutiny for the suspicious firing of a dental technician. Deborah Schoenfeld was a Hindu woman working among evangelical Christians, and they apparently made her life hell.
Schoenfeld's claims would seem outrageous and absurd if they were not corroborated by sources for the Air Force Times. And, if this kind of thing were not so frighteningly common in 21st Century America.
These are some of the accusations and treatment Schoenfeld was subjected to.
- In her time at Epes Dental Clinic she was actually and specifically accused of “witchcraft” and “bringing demons into the office.” She has been officially advised that she is not allowed to know who her accusers are.
- She has been openly disparaged for not having the same religious views as her superiors (Evangelical Christian) and being “uninterested in taking part” in Christian rituals or the rampant and rapacious, workplace-based, Evangelical Christian proselytizing which is outrageously and comprehensively supported by her former command.
- She has been admonished that practicing yoga is “Satanic” and will “cost (her) her soul”.
- She was advised by her chain of command to pray against the recent Supreme Court ruling against same sex marriage, as it is “an abomination to their religion”.
Also at issue, she meditated and listened to Indian music. (As do I.) According to sources, she was referred to repeatedly as a "Hindu witch," and the Catholic employee who replaced her was embraced as, "an angel, since last time we had the devil.”
I must admit to being mystified by the evangelical preoccupation with yoga. As discussed here, the teaching of a very secular form of yoga in Encinitas, CA, resulted in litigation by fundamentalist Christian parents who insisted it was a violation of church-state separation. They lost.
This, on the other hand, seems like a clear-cut case of religious discrimination. Retired Air Force officer Mikey Weinstein and his Military Religious Freedom Foundation are on the case.
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 good number of Hindus in the Air Force and other branches of the military. In 2011, the first Hindu inter-faith chaplain was appointed by the Pentagon.
The Air Force also made news some years ago for the groundbreaking step of installing a Pagan temple at their Colorado Springs base. They got a little push-back from arch-conservatives. Religious tolerance and the lack of religious tests seems far from settled in some circles, and apparently, in some military commands.
It seems like the Air Force is one of the worst, in terms of zealous Christian bigotry. I've had my own run-ins with Air Force personnel, over my unorthodox spiritual views. And, reports of this kind of, not only open, but discriminatory proselytizing in the Air Force are becoming all too common. Many of us will be watching to see how they deal with this abuse of the Constitution in their ranks.