James Tosone, 70, filed a federal lawsuit against the New Jersey secretary of state in October, claiming the state forces people who run for office to swear to a religious oath. He claimed his conscience wouldn't let him swear to God. In November, New Jersey's Division of Elections instructed all county clerks to give candidates for public office the option to make a "solemn affirmation or declaration" in lieu of an oath.
Hugh Phillips, litigation counsel with Liberty Counsel, weighed in on the decision to remove the religious oath requirement, saying it "saddens" him.
"I think the Supreme Court has been pretty clear that no citizen can be forbidden from entering office or from entering an election because they're not a believer [or] because of their religious beliefs," Phillips tells AFN. "But at the same time, the United States has a rich tradition and history of Christian values because we're a Christian nation."
The U.S. Constitution, he points out, was founded on a Christian basis. He adds that this issue is not new, and that the Founders even addressed this in Article 6, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution.
"[That] was a prohibition on religious tests for federal office," he explains. "So, the founders … were very clear that this is a Christian nation; that this Constitution was 'made only for a moral and religious people,' as [John] Adams said."
Tosone reportedly planned to run for the U.S. Senate as a Libertarian. Phillips doubts that was the motivation behind the lawsuit.
"… His intent was really to remove God from the public sphere. He wasn't really concerned that he would be kept off the ballot, I think."
Phillips concludes that while he doesn't think a religious test should be required for office, America – as a Christian nation with a Judeo-Christian heritage – should refrain from removing God from everything in society.