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New Jersey scraps 'so help me God' oath requirement to run for office following lawsuit demanding 'secular option'
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New Jersey scraps 'so help me God' oath requirement to run for office following lawsuit demanding 'secular option'

New Jersey has discarded its requirement that candidates running for public office sign an oath including the phrase "so help me God," NJ.com reported Wednesday.

In October, 70-year-old James Tosone of Bergen County filed a federal lawsuit against Secretary of State Tahesha Way, accusing New Jersey of forcing candidates to swear to a religious oath. Tosone, who describes himself as a "nontheist," alleged that the state's requirement violates First Amendment freedoms.

"While Mr. Tosone previously completed the candidate petition in order to participate in past elections, he now sincerely believes, as a matter of conscience, that he cannot swear 'so help me God,'" the lawsuit stated.

The New Jersey statute mandated candidates to swear to abide by the United States' and the state's constitutions, requiring that they "give assurance of fidelity and attachment to the government."

"By requiring plaintiff to swear 'so help me God,' in order to run for public office, without a secular option, the secretary of state has inflicted, and will continue to inflict, irreparable harm upon [Tosone]," the complaint alleged.

In an October 24 memo to county clerks, acting director of the state's Division of Elections Lauren Zyriek wrote, "The petitioner has the option to make a solemn affirmation or declaration in lieu of an oath."

The memo explained that candidates may now state, "I, , [sic] do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm" or, "I, , [sic] do declare, in the presence of Almighty God, the witness of the truth of what I say."

"Such an affirmation or declaration has the same force and effect as an oath taken consistent with" the state's statute, Zyriek's memo read.

"In addition, in the affirmation or declaration, the words 'so help me God' shall be omitted," the memo added.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Tosone, praised New Jersey for "quite rapidly" adopting "a secular affirmation" for those running for office. The organization "is pleased at the outcome and filing to voluntarily dismiss the case."

"I'm very happy with the state's response to my lawsuit and their commitment to follow the Constitution's 'no religious test for public office,'" Tosone stated.

On Monday, Tosone's attorney filed a note to dismiss the lawsuit, NJ.com reported. Court records revealed that the dismissal was signed by a judge Tuesday.

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