03/24/04 — Irony: Who isn’t giving witnesses a choice?

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Irony: Who isn’t giving witnesses a choice?

It’s ironic that Judge James M. Honeycutt is the one who ends up the closest to violating the Constitution over invoking God’s name in a courtroom.

Honeycutt is a District Court judge in Lexington who has asked court officials to stop ending oaths with the pledge “so help me God.” He is also trying to do away with the traditional court-opening blessing by bailiffs: “God save this honorable court.”

His reasoning is that many people who come into his courtroom are not Christians, and Christian oaths and blessings are inimical to them.

It is difficult to follow His Honor on that. “God save this court” and “So help me God” are not exclusively Christian. They might apply to Jews, Muslims and other religions that recognize a single god. That probably includes just about everyone who sets foot in Honeycutt’s courtroom except the atheists.

For them, as in other North Carolina courts, there is the choice of an alternative oath, or affirmation, that does not make mention of God. In other words, they don’t have to mention God if they don’t want to.

That’s the ironic part. The managing attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina, Seth H. Jaffe, agrees that the traditional oath is constitutional as long as witnesses and defendants have a choice. Honeycutt’s rules don’t leave a choice. Isn’t that discriminating against people who prefer to refer to God? (Do you think the ACLU might like to take up their cause? Not likely.)

Why a judge would want to raise this matter — apparently seeking to distance government even further from religion — is hard to imagine.

Heaven help him.

Published in Editorials on March 24, 2004 12:45 PM