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Arkansas 5th grader refuses to ‘pledge allegiance’ until gays gain equality

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Will PhillipsUpdated 11/17/09. Added: Interview with CNN.

A 10-year-old Arkansas boy named Will Phillips has decided that he cannot in good conscience pledge allegiance to the flag as long as the country for which it stands refuses legal equality to its LGBT citizens.

The West Fork School District fifth grade student clashed with a substitute teacher for his refusal to stand for the pledge, prompting a call to Will’s mother, Laura Phillips. When the principal acknowledged that Will has the right to refuse to say the pledge, Ms. Phillips asked that her son receive an apology — a request that the principal declined to honor.

Laura Phillips told the Arkansas Times that her 10-year-old is “probably more aware of the meaning of the pledge than a lot of adults. He’s not just doing it rote recitation. We raised him to be aware of what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s fair.”

On Monday, Will and his father sat down with CNN. Watch the interview here:

Will’s family has a number of gay friends. In recent years, Laura Phillips said, they’ve been trying to be a straight ally to the gay community, going to the pride parades and standing up for the rights of their gay and lesbian neighbors. They’ve been especially dismayed by the effort to take away the rights of homosexuals – the right to marry, and the right to adopt.

Given that, Will immediately saw a problem with the pledge of allegiance.

“I’ve always tried to analyze things because I want to be lawyer,” Will said. “I really don’t feel that there’s currently liberty and justice for all.”

After asking his parents whether it was against the law not to stand for the pledge, Will decided to do something.

On Monday, Oct. 5, when the other kids in his class stood up to recite the pledge of allegiance, he remained sitting down. The class had a substitute teacher that week, who tried to make him stand up, but Will respectfully refused.

After several days of Will refusing to stand for the pledge, it finally came to a head. The teacher, Will said, told him that she knew his mother and grandmother, and they would want him to stand and say the pledge.

“She got a lot more angry and raised her voice and brought my mom and my grandma up,” Will said. “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 Phillips still refuses to stand during the pledge of allegiance. Though many of his friends at school have told him they support his decision, those who don’t have been unkind, and often attack him personally with anti-gay epithets.

“In the lunchroom and in the hallway, they’ve been making comments and doing pranks, and calling me gay,” Will said. “It’s always the same people, walking up and calling me a gaywad.”

Even so, Will said that he can’t foresee anything in the near future that will make him stand for the pledge.

Full interview at the Arkansas Times.

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Filed under: Arkansas, Newsmakers

10 more reader comments:

  1. This kid deserves a medal for not blindly following. I just wish I could find his address/email and pass on some words of encouragment.
    Keep it up, little dude. And FYI, your mocking classmates are douchbags.

    Posted on Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 9:55pm
  2. I was crying as I read this article. To know that there are children out there who actually understand what goes on in the world around them and are brave enough to stand up for what’s right…that really warms my heart. NorthSteve is exactly right and if somehow, Will, you’re reading this, you are my hero. You are fantastic and anyone who refuses to listen to you – whether it be because of their bias against your beliefs or their bias against you personally – isn’t somebody who matters. Thank you for your conscience.

    Posted on Friday, December 4, 2009 at 9:52pm
  3. good for you will! you’ve done a great thing, and i hope and pray that many people follow. ignore those who try to push you down.
    much love,

    Posted on Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 3:15pm
  4. Thank you Will! You give so many of us hope for the future. Hopefully, one day every one will except what you have to say. Never give up your ideals and never let anyone push you down. And a big Kudo’s to your parent’s, you definitely raised a young man to be proud of!
    Michael & Paul

    Posted on Sunday, December 6, 2009 at 6:58am
  5. Will’s parents should be proud. They have raised an amazing young man!

    Posted on Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 8:14am
  6. Its amazing that at 10 years old this boy understands what most 30 year olds in this country cant comprehend. He is very intelligent and I think this boy is going to be a genius when he’s further in his education.

    Will, what you are doing is amazing and don’t let anyone keep you down

    Posted on Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 1:48am
  7. He is just a genius!

    Posted on Tuesday, October 12, 2010 at 1:19am
  8. Bless your heart little man! Or should I say Big Man! In my 49 years on this planet, I have met few men who are the kind of man you currently are and will continue to be!!! My hat is off to you. Keep being true to yourself, your friends and your family!

    Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 4:25pm
  9. This boy is a hero and such a blessing to his parents they are doing a wonderful job in raising him! What I would like to know is what are the teachers and the principle doing about the kids that are bullying him at school? That should not be happening and should be stopped!

    Posted on Saturday, November 27, 2010 at 12:48am
  10. im 13, and I LOOK UP to this boy. what he did is one of the greatest acts of kindness and equality i've ever seen.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 5:44pm