Senior Writer Diana Chandler with the Baptist Press reported yesterday that the State of New Jersey elected to drop its requirement for political candidates to swear an oath recognizing and honoring God when seeking ballot placement.
The change was implemented on October 24, 2023, following a lawsuit filed on October 3, 2023 by James Tosone – which challenged the state’s constitutional requirement that Tosone swear an oath affirming his belief in God before he could hold public office as a Notary Public.
Despite the United States (“US”) Supreme Court’s 1961 ruling in Torcaso v. Watkins striking down such oaths or religious tests as a requirement for public office, New Jersey continued the practice through a state law. In addition to New Jersey, seven other US state constitutions appear to have retained religious tests for candidacy and elected office, despite the legal precedent. Those states are Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
The Baptist Press article may be read HERE.
The Baptist Press’ article references the US Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) Case “Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961)” in which Associate Justice Hugo Lafayette Black, delivering the opinion of the court, wrote that Article 37 of the Declaration of Rights of the Maryland Constitution provided that “no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God” and that “[t]here is, and can be, no dispute about the purpose or effect of the Maryland Declaration of Rights requirement before [the SCOTUS] — it sets up a religious test which was designed to…and, if valid, does, bar every person who refuses to declare a belief in God from holding a public ‘office of profit or trust’ in Maryland.”
The SCOTUS held that the Maryland test for public office was unconstitutional because it invaded the freedom of belief and religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution and was also protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution from infringement by the States.
As a refresher, here is the language of the First and Fourteenth Amendments:
The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, submitted to the states on September 25, 1789 and adopted on December 15, 1791, states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, proposed on June 13, 1866 and ratified on July 9, 1868, states that “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
A well-balanced summary of the SCOTUS decision may be read HERE on the JUSTIA website.
My brothers and sisters, the “New World” that would eventually become United States was first populated (excluding the indigenous natives) by Pilgrims escaping the religious control of the English government and its church in the early 1600s – after initially living for some time in the Netherlands (Holland).
The idea of government (England) controlling their faith was unacceptable – despite the fact that even in the United States, as addressed in the above Baptist Press article, constitutional amendments became necessary to assure that religious beliefs did not become a “litmus test” for elected political office or appointment.
The “legislation of morality” – a term considered pejorative by some, can have a “forced” but positive impact in some situations, especially in light of the need for civil government to assure good order in society and to establish (or perhaps better put, to “affirm”) the basis for civil law and moral behavior – the word of God. Where this approach seems highly shortsighted is that although civil law may guide societal behaviors, norms or standards, it does not change the hearts of men and women. Only the love of God through Jesus Christ makes that happen!
Romans 10:9-10 (NKJV)
“…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
Hebrews 10:15-17 (NKJV)
“But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, ‘[t]his is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ then He adds, ‘[t]heir sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’”
The issue of oath taking in civil government may have merit and a purpose under civil law beyond using the name of God and the bible, but scripture makes it clear that as Christians, we are to always be honest – with our yes meaning yes, and our no meaning no. There should be no reason to use the name of God to “swear” we are telling the truth!
Matthew 5:33-37 (NKJV)
Jesus Forbids Oaths
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one [emphasis mine].”
James 5:12 (NKJV)
“But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No, ‘No,’ lest you fall into judgment [emphasis mine].”
Praise Jesus forevermore!