A Queens man claims he was the victim of religious discrimination after Nassau court officials banned him from a Hempstead courtroom Tuesday when he refused to remove his turban — which he said they dubbed a “doo rag.”
An attorney for Satnam Singh, 22, of Bellerose Terrace, filed a complaint Wednesday saying his client, a member of the Sikh religion, “is extremely upset over the total lack of respect and lack of religious tolerance” shown by a judge and a court officer.
Defense attorney William Shanahan said District Court Judge David McAndrews told him Tuesday that Singh “was not allowed in the courtroom” as he was attired, and that he wouldn’t immediately cancel an arrest warrant he’d issued after Singh was late for the morning court session .
“I again explained to him that it was not a doo rag, but rather a religious piece of clothing,” Shanahan wrote of McAndrews in a letter to Supervising District Court Judge Norman St. George. “… I asked to go on the record, but was told … he would have to come back the next day to vacate the warrant.”
Court spokesman Daniel Bagnuola confirmed Wednesday that St. George was looking into the discrimination complaint.
Bagnuola said Singh came into McAndrews’ courtroom Tuesday wearing “what was perceived and described by court officials as not being recognized as a religious article of clothing.”
He added: “The Nassau courts are extremely sensitive to the religious and cultural rights and freedoms of all who use our courts, and strive to uphold and protect equality and transparency.”
On Wednesday, Singh, who’s facing misdemeanor drug charges, wore a bulkier style of turban back to court – one he said takes 20 to 30 minutes to wrap his long hair in, compared with the sleeker wrap he’d worn Tuesday that he can quickly tie up.
Court officials didn’t object to his attire, and McAndrews canceled the warrant.
But Singh told Newsday he felt “violated” when a female court officer ordered him to take off his “doo rag” Tuesday after he sat down and removed the baseball cap he’d worn over his lighter-style turban.
Singh said he told the officer repeatedly that the wrap was a turban, but she forcefully told him: “No, you either have to take it off or you have to step out.” He refused, and left.
Shanahan said he took Singh’s case after he heard his story in the courthouse Tuesday, and called it a “textbook violation of religious rights.”
Singh, who works in construction, said he’d previously worn the lighter turban to the same Hempstead court, along with criminal courts in New York City with no problems.
“I live in New York City where’s it’s like mostly … a mixed crowd … I never really experienced this before,” Singh said. “It just makes me feel like I don’t belong here or something like that.”
In 1993, a Nassau judge had ordered McAndrews, then a local prosecutor, to remove Lenten ashes from his forehead – saying they could prejudice a jury.
The Republican judge, whose elected term ends this year, also agreed to take a green Saint Patrick’s Day carnation out of his lapel that same year after a defense lawyer made the same kind of complaint.