A Bergen County man sued the state in October, objecting to its use of an oath that requires political candidates to swear to God in order to get on election ballots. (Getty Images)
New Jersey will no longer require political candidates to swear an oath including the word “God” in order to be placed on a ballot, prompting a religious freedom group that sued over the oath to drop its lawsuit.
The new wording allows people with no religious affiliation who objected to swearing to God to run for office, said Samantha Lawrence, legal fellow at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a secular advocacy group.
“We were very pleased to see the state has essentially agreed with our complaint and our legal concerns,” she said. “They took very quick action to try and rectify the situation, and our plaintiff is also happy with the state’s action.”
Under state law, people running for office must file a petition requiring them to sign the New Jersey Oath of Allegiance.
But now, the New Jersey Division of Elections will give candidates two options — swear an oath that includes “in the presence of Almighty God” and “so help me God,” or a solemn affirmation or declaration with no religious reference, according to a memo sent Oct. 24 to county clerks statewide.
“Such affirmation or declaration has the same force and effect as an oath,” the memo states.
The Wisconsin-based organization sued in early October on behalf of James Tosone, a Bergen County resident who said he was effectively barred from running for office because he could not in good conscience swear “so help me God.” The suit argued that mandating political candidates to take a religious oath violates the First and 14th Amendments.
After the state’s concession, the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed Monday to voluntarily dismiss the case. A spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office, which oversees the Division of Elections, did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, Tosone applauded the state’s new deity-free affirmation and its “commitment to follow the Constitution’s ‘no religious test for public office.’” He previously ran as a Libertarian in the 39th District in 2021, but says his religious beliefs have changed and now bar him from swearing a religious oath.
Still, Lawrence said the foundation — which has about 800 members in New Jersey — will keep an eye on the state to ensure county clerks are following proper procedure and follow through with the changes.
“Hopefully the situation doesn’t change, and we can put this behind us and not have to litigate it again,” she said.
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