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New Jersey drops requirement to swear “so help me God”

Politician taking oath of office

Sean Locke Photography | Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 11/18/23

Compelling people running for or entering public office to appeal to God via an oath should be avoided.

Political candidates in the state of New Jersey will no longer be obliged to invoke God when swearing an oath before they can be placed on the ballot.

Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation dropped its lawsuit against the state after the New Jersey Division of Elections amended a requirement that people running for office sign the New Jersey Oath of Allegiance.

The Division of Elections now will give candidates the option to swear an oath that includes the words “in the presence of Almighty God” or a solemn affirmation or declaration with no religious reference, The New Jersey Monitor reported

A memo sent October 24 to county clerks said that when a petition for placement on a ballot requires an accompanying oath of allegiance the petitioner “has the option to make a solemn affirmation or declaration in lieu of an oath, and any elections official charged with accepting that petition must accept such solemn affirmation or declaration in lieu of an oath.”

“In addition, in the affirmation or declaration, the words ‘so help me God’ shall be omitted,” the memo said. 

“Such affirmation or declaration has the same force and effect as an oath,” it added. 

Conscience should be respected

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued in 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,” said the Monitor. Mandating political candidates to take a religious oath violates the First and 14th Amendments, the Freedom From Religion Foundation contended. 

In a statement, Tosone applauded the state’s “commitment to follow the Constitution’s ‘no religious test for public office.’”

Nathan Berkeley, a spokesman for the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C., told Aleteia that the Institute encourages state governments and the U.S. federal government to “maintain the practice of using oaths of office that include an appeal to God — out of deep respect for American history and tradition, as well as, a solemn recognition that governments, along with every human authority, are subject to a transcendent authority that is greater-than-human.”

But, Berkeley conceded, compelling people running for or entering public office to appeal to God via an oath should be avoided. 

“Conscientious objectors should be respected in these circumstances,” Berkeley said. “While RFI believes the New Jersey Division of Elections should make the version of the oath that appeals to God the presumptive option, it is appropriate that the State of New Jersey should allow an alternative version for those candidates and public officials who cannot, in good conscience, make such an appeal.”

AtheismPoliticsReligious Freedom
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