A candidate sues New Jersey over its ‘so help me God’ pledge on a nominating petition

Oct 5, 2023, 9:55 AM

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey man who wants to run for Congress next year has sued the state over its requirement that candidates sign a nominating petition including the affirmation “so help me God.”

James Tosone, 70, plans to run for Congress in 2024 as a Libertarian. But as a nontheist, he said he cannot sign part of the petition required for candidates who run for office in New Jersey.

The Bergen County resident filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court against Secretary of State Tahesha Way, who also is the state’s lieutenant governor. It seeks an injunction preventing the state from requiring candidates to sign a petition including the religious oath.

“It’s an egregious violation of freedom of conscience, as well as our Constitution — to compel nontheists to take a religious oath,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit that promotes separation of church and state. “This legal challenge seeks to put an end to this discriminatory and anachronistic practice.”

Tosone, who refuses to sign the document, claimed the requirement is preventing him from running for office.

The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office declined comment.

Tosone said he contacted the state Division of Elections about the requirement and was told in November 2021 that the oath is required by state law.

The lawsuit claims Way has the authority to amend the petition form to enable nonbelievers to run for office and assert the truthfulness of their submitted information without having to “violate their conscience.”

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A candidate sues New Jersey over its ‘so help me God’ pledge on a nominating petition