Can I stay seated during the Pledge of Allegiance?
Ten-year-old Will Phillips did just that on October 5, 2009. A fifth-grader at West Fork Middle School in Arkansas, Will remained in his seat while the rest of the class stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance (written by Francis Bellamy in 1892).
The Pledge is more than a rote recitation of words to Will. The concluding phrase means something to Will . . .”with liberty and justice for all.” He explained that he and his family have gay and lesbian friends and that they are not treated equally regarding the right to marry.
“I’ve grown up with a lot of people and I’m good friends with a lot of people who are gay and I think they should have the rights all people should, and I’m not going to swear that they do,” Will stated.
For four days his substitute teacher urged Will to stand during the Pledge. When she brought up knowing his mother and grandmother and that they would want him to stand, Will blew up. He told her “With all due respect, ma’am you can go jump off a bridge.”
He was sent to the principal’s office and his mother was called. Knowing that Will did not have to recite the Pledge or stand during its recital, she asked for an apology from the teacher. Will’s father commented, “He felt that just because he’s ten years old doesn’t mean he doesn’t have opinions, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have rights, and doesn’t mean he can’t make a difference.”
When Will was asked by a reporter what being an American meant to him, he said, “Freedom of speech – the freedom to disagree.” Are you surprised to read about this ten-year-old with such strong opinions? Did you watch his interview on CNN? Whether you agree with Will or not on the issue of gay rights, would you take a stand on something you felt strongly about – even if it resulted in unwanted attention at school or from the media?
Note: In 1940, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 8-1 that schools can discipline a student for refusing to salute the U.S. flag (Minersville School District v. Gobitis). However, three years later, the Court reversed itself and ruled 6-3 that such a requirement violates the student’s free speech rights. (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943).
As of 2015, 46 states require public schools to take a moment during the school day for reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Vermont, Iowa, Wyoming and Hawaii do not.
Watch Will’s interview on CNN below: