U.S. district judge to speak at Red Mass

Posted Sept. 29, 2009, at 10:48 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:41 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. District Judge John Woodcock will speak Thursday at a dinner after the Red Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

The Red Mass, according to Woodcock, traces its origin to 1245 in the Cathedral of Paris and is celebrated annually for judges, prosecutors, lawyers, law school professors, law students and government officials.

The name of the Mass is derived from the red vestments worn by the celebrants to symbolize the tongue of fire that indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit. The vestments recall the traditional bright scarlet robes worn by attending royal judges many centuries ago, Bishop Richard J. Malone, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said in his homily at the Red Mass in 2004.

The Red Mass was revived in Maine in the late 1990s by Malone’s predecessor, Bishop Joseph J. Gerry.

Previous speakers at the event after the Mass have included U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, U.S. District Judge George Singal of Portland, and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Louis Kornreich of Bangor.

Woodcock, who will speak about the history of the Establishment Clause, said Monday that being asked to speak after the Mass was an honor. The judge said he was appearing as an individual and would not be representing the federal court at the Mass or the dinner.

“My topic is the history of the religious clauses in the First Amendment,” he said in an e-mail. “I chose the topic because the interplay between the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses is one of the most complicated and least well understood areas of constitutional law. I thought the history of how we came to adopt the religious clauses in the First Amendment would be of interest and, hopefully, educate the audience.

“Generally, I plan to emphasize the unusual character of this country’s doctrine of separation of church and state,” he continued, “and to explain the historical context of the adoption of the clauses that led to doctrine. I do not intend to draw any conclusions about the current state of First Amendment jurisprudence in the United States.”

Woodcock, 59, of Hampden was born and raised in Bangor. A Catholic, he attended St. Mary Catholic Church and graduated from John Bapst High School when it was the city’s Catholic high school.

He graduated from Bowdoin College, then earned a master’s degree in history from the London School of Economics before graduating from the University of Maine School of Law.

Before being appointed to the federal bench in 2003, Woodcock was in private practice in Bangor.

jharrison@bangordailynews.net

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