NASHVILLE—The U.S. Congress added the words “under God” to the country’s Pledge of Allegiance 60 years ago, and most Americans want to keep it that way, despite ongoing legal challenges.
A lawsuit filed March 28 against a New Jersey school district contends reciting the phrase “under God” in the pledge sends a message nonbelievers are bad citizens and creates a hostile environment for atheist students.
But a telephone survey of 1,001 Americans from Nashville-based LifeWay Research found 85 percent want to keep “under God” in the pledge.
Researchers found one in four Americans (25 percent) believe forcing students to say “under God” violates their rights. But less than one in 10 (8 percent) Americans want to remove “under God” from the pledge.
The survey results show little support for changing the pledge, said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research.
“Most Americans have recited the pledge hundreds of times and are not inclined to memorize a different pledge,” he says. “Changing it may just feel wrong. Most Americans say they believe in God or a higher being and feel comfortable having ‘under God’ in the pledge.”
Lawyers for the parents in the New Jersey lawsuit disagree. They issued a statement April 21 announcing the suit.
“Public schools should not engage in an exercise that tells students that patriotism is tied to a belief in God,” said David Niose, attorney for the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, which represents the parents. “Such a daily exercise portrays atheist and humanist children as second-class citizens and certainly contributes to anti-atheist prejudices.”
A similar legal challenge to the pledge is pending before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. That case, brought by atheist parents of a public school child, claims the “under God” phrase violates the state’s equal rights laws.
The study by LifeWay Research found younger Americans are more likely to support removal of “under God” from the pledge. Fourteen percent of those ages 18-29 want to remove the phrase, compared to 5 percent of those over 64.
Women (88 percent) are more likely to want to keep “under God” than men (83 percent). Americans with a college degree are more likely (13 percent) to want it removed. Self-identified born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Christians are most likely (94 percent) to say “under God” should remain.
The telephone survey of adult Americans was conducted Sept. 6-10, 2013, and interviews were conducted in either English or Spanish. Researchers called both listed and unlisted numbers and reached about 20 percent of the sample by cell phone.
Analysts weighted responses by age, gender, education, race/Hispanic ethnicity, region and market size to reflect the population more accurately. The sample provides 95 percent confidence the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.