Earlier this year, LifeWay Research (an evangelical Christian polling group) asked Americans whether or not they prefer to keep “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and, to no one’s surprise, they overwhelmingly said yes:
The American Humanist Association felt those results were skewed, in part because Americans didn’t really understand the Pledge’s history. So in May, they commissioned The Seidewitz Group to run a similar survey. But this time, before asking whether “Under God” should remain in the Pledge, responders were made aware of when it was put in there in the first place:
For its first 62 years, the Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase “under God.” During the Cold War, in 1954, the phrase “one nation indivisible” was changed to read “one nation, under God, indivisible.” Some people feel this phrase in our national pledge should focus on unity rather than religion.
Do you believe the Pledge of Allegiance should: Return to the unchanged version: “one nation indivisible” [or] Continue with the changed version: “one nation, under God, indivisible”?
With that introduction, there was a dramatic shift in results: It turns out more than a third of Americans support a return to the original Pledge:
Whoa! That’s a dramatic shift from the 8% who felt that way in LifeWay’s poll.
When you break the results down by religious belief, most “Nones” want “Under God” out of the Pledge (shocking!), but so do 20% of Christians — more than double what LifeWay said about the entire population:
While both research organizations have ways of controlling for this, it’s worth noting that LifeWay did a phone survey while The Seidewitz Group did an online survey.
Also interesting: While age and gender didn’t matter too much in these results, there were some groups that leaned heavily in the direction of removing the phrase: Asian-Americans, those with a four-year college degree (or beyond), wealthier Americans ($75,000+/year), and people who live in the western part of the country.
The key difference, though, is that understanding of the Pledge’s history. When Americans are taught that “Under God” wasn’t always in the Pledge, they are much more likely to support reverting back to the original version. It’s a detail the Religious Right loves to gloss over.
“The current wording of the Pledge marginalizes atheists, agnostics, humanists and other nontheists because it presents them as less patriotic, simply because they do not believe in God,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “We are encouraged by these findings, which suggest with even a small amount of education, more Americans are in favor of restoring the Pledge to its original wording.”
None of that means the Pledge is going to change anytime soon. But it’s important to realize that, just like with any Todd Starnes article, people often side with Christians because they don’t have the whole story (or it’s withheld from them). Better journalists would provide a proper context.
In this case, giving respondents that information led to a four-fold change in how many of them support a Pledge of Allegiance without a reference to God.