North Carolina's Supreme Court ordered a judge Tuesday to restore references to God used when he enters the courtroom and when witnesses swear to tell the truth.
The high court sided with angry officials from two counties who complained that District Judge James M. Honeycutt had taken it upon himself to change courtroom procedures.
Justices ordered Honeycutt to stop using a revised oath missing the phrase "so help you God" and to administer the oath as spelled out in state law. The court also ordered the judge to allow bailiffs to begin court sessions with a proclamation that includes "God save the state and this honorable court."
Honeycutt had threatened to hold several bailiffs in contempt of court if they continued to use the phrase, according to a complaint by court officials in Iredell and Davidson counties.
Honeycutt told officials in March he was revising the oath because of the increasing number of non-Christians and people of diverse beliefs served by the court system.
Though the standard oath includes the reference to God, state law allows witnesses themselves to decide to "affirm" their intent to be truthful rather than take the oath referring to God.
Honeycutt did not immediately return a message Tuesday seeking comment.
Honeycutt was elected in 1990; he is one of nine judges who preside over district courts in four counties south of Winston-Salem. His term expires in 2006.
Brian Shipwash, the Davidson County clerk of court, said a number of court clerks and bailiffs had refused to heed Honeycutt's order.
"Basically, the judge swore in his own witnesses," Shipwash said. "I think this decision returns this court to the people instead of like a dictatorship of one judge."