Dental tech, labeled ‘Hindu Witch,’ files discrimination complaint

Cara Schulz —  October 13, 2015 — 12 Comments

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FT. MEADE, Md. – A civilian dental technician alleges that she has suffered religious discrimination, a hostile work environment and was subsequently fired after filing a formal complaint. Deborah Schoenfeld said that her Evangelical coworkers and managers at Epes Dental Clinic called her a witch, discriminated against her religion, and called her practice of yoga and meditation ‘satanic.’

Deborah Meade [Courtesy Photo]

Deborah Meade [Courtesy Photo]

In a recent interview with The Wild Hunt, Schoenfeld described her faith as Hindu, but has also been studying Wicca for 2 years. She said that the harassment began in April 2015 and that both military and civilian coworkers and managers took part in the problem. Schoenfeld described this harassment as such:

  • Employees were expected to attend Evangelical religious events and were asked to pray that SCOTUS would rule against same sex marriage.

  • Predominately Christian music was played in the office during work hours.

  • Schoenfeld was told that, due to her practice of meditation, she was bringing demons into the office.

  • Her practice of yoga was called “satanic.”

  • She was called a “Hindu witch.”

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has sent a letter to US Air Force officials, notifying them that the MRFF is “immediately providing aggressive advocacy services for Ms. Schoenfeld as a MRFF client pursuant to her resolute quest to obtain a just resolution to her shocking complaints.” The MRFF also said it has filed a formal complaint with the military Equal Employment Opportunity (EO) channel.

As explained by Schoenfeld, she first reported these instances to her chain of command, but received no help. Then, on Sept 2, she filed a formal complaint regarding the harassment. Later that day she was fired for “using profanity against coworker.” Her manager declined to name the coworker or further define the situation on which they had based the firing.

Schoenfeld said that this harassment and the subsequent firing has been stressful. “I have been trying to still deal with the whole complexity of the situation as a whole. If it were not for my Pagan friends and for all the support from outsiders, I don’t think I could have kept myself going. Even my yoga teacher roots for me saying, ‘I’m glad you keep on coming to yoga, it will ground you.’ ”

She also added that the firing itself was a complete surprise. Schoenfeld explained that she had worked very hard and had been asked to perform two jobs at once. Even with the increased workload, she was praised for the quality of her performance,“I even got an award for patient safety back in March 2015. My non-abusive co-workers would give me accolades for helping them with their extra patients, so they would not have to work through lunch or stay after work. This has been my first military job, and the first time in all my career I have ever felt this type of discrimination.”

In an off-the-record interview with the Air Force Times, two of Schoenfeld’s former coworkers confirmed that the harassment against Schoenfeld took place and that they themselves were threatened with termination if they were to back her claims. Additionally noted in the article, those two same co-workers added that a deep suspicion of Hinduism was the motivation for the harassment.

According to USAF regulations, all persons in leadership positions “must ensure that their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief or absence of belief.” Violations can be charged as a felony under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.



The Air Force District of Washington has received Weinstein’s letter and is looking into the allegations raised, said spokesman Maj. Joel Harper.

The Wild Hunt contacted Ft. Meade Public Affairs, but as of publication we have not received a response back.

After this experience, Schoenfeld said that she now has a different view of religious freedom in the US. “I believe it’s only free for certain of the religions. Polytheists are looked down upon by many faiths, although there are many of us. I do hope that one day the Christian church will realize some of us are really just happy just the way we are.”

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Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.
  • AnantaAndroscoggin

    Judge not, lest ye be judged [by your own lights]. Also read the Daily KOS article about this just yesterday. The White Protestant Supremacy party (formerly called “republicans”) will most probably take this up as another of their faked-up “Christian Persecution” stories to spread around.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      At least in the House of Representatives, there no longer is a Republican Party. There’s the Tea Party, the RINOs and the Democrats, in ascending order of numbers. Nobody has a majority, and the Dems have the largest plurality, a situation nicely covered for them by the Chinese ideogram translated as both “danger” and “opportunity.”

    • Pardon, but the last time I checked, there was a Democrat Commander-in-Chief and has been for at least six years. I don’t like either/or conclusions, but the most likely reasons are that he’s unable to do his job or that he is unwilling to do his job. Either way, it doesn’t give me confidence in the Democrat party to save the day.

      This is a problem that goes far beyond political parties.

      • Hecate_Demetersdatter

        You know, use of the term “Democrat party” is a pretty obvious tell.

        • *shrugs* If I had my druthers, ALL American political parties would be banished and the national party leaders prosecuted under the RICO Act.

          However, blaming Republicans after a Democrat was elected President in the last two elections is really reaching. The military does answer to him.

          • Hecate_Demetersdatter

            Yes, he’s absolutely to blame if some low-level Xian nut jobs pick on one of their co-workers. He’s obviously aware of it and approves of it. Not. You’re embarrassing yourself.

          • Northern_Light_27

            This is, though, part and parcel of a larger whole. If he isn’t aware of the widespread Dominionist attempts to steeplejack the Air Force, he certainly should be.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I’ve never arranged to become a “name” so I’m giving your comment a thumbs-up in this manner.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    “I do hope that one day the Christian church will realize some of us are really just happy just the way we are.”Schoenfeld is being perhaps kinder to her persecutors here than they deserve. A more immediate goal, and one that may be more possible of gaining, is cleaning these religious rotten boroughs out of the US military. It could be a long slog; I’ve been hearing of this kind of stuff in the services at least since the election of George W Bush.

  • pageroks .

    What’s sad is this went so far up the chain before she got help.

  • It’s the Air Force, the branch of the US military that believes the wings on their uniforms are angel wings straight from Jesus. Sadly, the Air Force has been corrupted by Evangelical extremists for decades and harassing “non-believers” is S.O.P. It’s always one step forward, two steps back trying to root them out. Until we have a Secretary of Defence with the stones to thoroughly “clean house,” mandating and enforcing the idea that the Oath of Enlistment and the Office supersedes religious ideology, nothing will change.

  • kenofken

    Maybe if the evangelicals had tended to their own knitting and focused on prayer rather than hunting Hindu witches, their god would have given them a Supreme Court victory on same sex marriage! 🙂