A New York District Court judge asked Nassau County Assistant District Attorney David McAndrews to remove Ash Wednesday ashes from his forehead during a trial on that day.
Court employees were reportedly surprised by the judge’s action, but Judge Geoffrey O’Connell, himself a Catholic, defended his action which was taken after the defense attorney objected to the district attorney’s appearance on the grounds that it was “prejudicial to the jury.”
New York’s Newsday devoted a half-page by-lined story to the incident. The article noted that many people, including other judges, had ashes on their foreheads that day. The article also noted that observant Jewish lawyers regularly wear yamulkas in the courtroom but it recalled an incident where a Catholic priest who serves as a defense lawyer was asked to remove his collar in a Kings county trial. Newsday quoted one courthouse employee who said the ruling was “against a Catholic for practicing his faith. Even people who were not Catholic are outraged.”
A wire service story noted that while most legal and religious experts agreed that the judge had the authority to make the ruling, some felt that the action constituted “undue government interference in religious freedom.”
The Catholic League Long Island Chapter was following up on the incident to see what actions might be appropriate under the circumstances.