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

Thursday, November 12, 2009
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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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