Will Phillips, a ten-year-old from Arkansas, won’t stand for the flag or recite the Pledge of Allegiance at school. Why? In his own words: “I really don’t feel that there’s currently liberty and justice for all.”
The Arkansas Times reports that this all started after a conversation Will had with his parents. They have gay friends and have increasingly been disappointed by the way gay and lesbian Americans have to fight for their rights.
During a car ride, the family began discussing the Pledge of Allegiance – not a typical family discussion topic, but then again, Will Phillips is anything but a typical ten-year-old – when Will identified a problem in standing for a pledge that says
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands: one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”
when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are discriminated against on a daily basis, both locally, and as a result of federal law.
Will asked his parents if it was legal for him to refuse to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance at his school. It is. So, Will decided to take matters into his own hands.
On Monday, Oct. 5, when Will went to class, he refused to stand for the pledge like the rest of his classmates. He had a substitute teacher that week, and at first she let this slide. As the week went on, she became angry, though.
By Thursday of that week, she was putting more and more pressure on Will to comply. The substitute teacher brought up Will’s mother, saying that she would want him to stand and participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. This didn’t sit well, as Will himself relates:
“She got a lot more angry and raised her voice and brought my mom and my grandma up… I was fuming and was too furious to really pay attention to what she was saying. After a few minutes, I said, ‘With all due respect, ma’am, you can go jump off a bridge.’ ”
Will was sent to the principal’s office. His mother, Laura Phillips, was called. Her first question was why it was that her child, a boy who loves learning and skipped from third to fifth grade, was telling a teacher to jump off a bridge?
The principal eventually told Will’s mother that Will wouldn’t stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and after repeated attempts made by the teacher to have Will comply with her wishes, the incident had occurred.
Eventually the principal conceded that Will was not required to say the pledge by either law or school policy. On that basis, Laura Phillips asked when she should expect an apology from the substitute teacher. None has been forthcoming.
On Oct. 20, Will gave a speech about the incident, which his parents have generously put on YouTube:
I have to admit, I’m always a little hesitant when it comes to stories concerning children and their participation in the fight for gay equality. It’s not the act that I have a problem with in itself, rather the fact that it is sometimes unclear whether or not the child actually understands what it is they are fighting for, or if they have been coached and are repeating ideas parrot fashion. This doesn’t just go for gay rights, but for any form of political activism.
However, Will strikes me as a young man who is smart enough to not only understand what it is that he’s saying, but to fully comprehend the nuanced argument behind it; that a denial of equal civil rights is fundamentally un-American.
What has come of this? Well, it is reported that Will has gained quite a few supporters. People from across America have written to thank him and tell him that they think he is a shining example of free-thinking for truly standing-up for liberty.
Unfortunately, he is also called names, including a few gay slurs, by children at his school that are less supportive. Currently, Will has no plans to change his mind, though. Notably, he would like to be a lawyer when he is older.
Regardless of your view point on homosexuality or gender identity, I think it can only be a positive thing that there are kids in today’s schools who are actively questioning and learning about the Constitution, America’s laws and its people’s rights. After all, pledging allegiance to the Flag means nothing if a child doesn’t understand the full and potent reasons behind that act, and the essence of fairness and equality that America strives for.
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