Student Braves Controversy, Refuses to Recite Pledge
"Liberty and justice for all?"
Will Phillips doesn't believe that describes America for its gay and lesbian citizens. He's a 10-year-old at West Fork Elementary School in Arkansas, about three hours east of Oklahoma City. Given his beliefs, he refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, specifically because that one phrase, "liberty and justice for all," he says, does not truly apply to all.
That did not go over well with the substitute teacher in his fifth-grade classroom.
The Arkansas Times reports that he started refusing to say the pledge Mon., Oct. 5. By Thursday, the substitute was steamed. She told Will she knew his mother and grandmother and they would want him to recite the pledge.
Will told the Times the substitute got more and more upset. She raised her voice. By this point, Will told the newspaper, he started losing his cool too, adding: "After a few minutes, I said, 'With all due respect ma'am, go jump off a bridge.'"
That got him sent to the principal's office. The principal made him look up information about the flag and what it represents. Meanwhile, there was the inevitable call to his mother.
At first, mom Laura Phillips told the Times, the principal talked about Will telling a substitute to jump off a bridge. When pressed, the principal admitted the whole incident was sparked by the boy exercising his constitutional right not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Phillips suggested an apology was in order -- from the teacher. When the principal said that wasn't necessary, Will's mother started venting to friends via Twitter. Those friends, in turn, told the news media. And what would have been a minor classroom incident has people throughout Arkansas and beyond choosing sides.
As for Will, he continues to exercise his right to remain silent. It can be rough at times, he and his family admit. He has his share of supporters, however, his critics are louder and nastier -- especially because he took his stand to defend gay rights.
"In the lunchroom and in the hallway, they've been making comments and doing pranks, calling me gay," he told the Times. "It's always the same people, walking up and calling me a gaywad."
Nonetheless, Will told the paper, he is sticking to his convictions. A reporter for the paper asked Will -- with all this talk about patriotism and the pledge -- what he thinks it means to be an American.
"Freedom of speech," he responded. "The freedom to disagree. That's what I think pretty much being an American represents."
His mother is proud.
"He's probably more aware of the meaning of the pledge that a lot of adults," Phillips told the Times.
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