"Liberty and justice for all" — One boy takes it seriously

Posted on 18 Nov 2009 at 10:35am

I got an e-mail today from a man named Chris who wanted to tell me about something happening in the little town of West Fork, Ark., where a 10-year-old boy named Will Phillips is refusing to stand up in school and say the Pledge of Allegiance until the time comes when he can truly believe that the U.S.A. really does offer “liberty and justice for all.”

In the video clip below of a CNN interview with fifth-grader Will Phillips and his father Jay, Will explains: “I was analyzing the meanings of it [the pledge of allegiance] because I want to be a lawyer. … There really isn’t liberty and justice for all. Gays and lesbians can’t marry, and there is still a lot of racism and sexism in the world.”

For four days Will refused to stand up and say the pledge. And for four days the substitute teacher tried to insist that he do so, even though he told her it was his First Amendment right to refuse. On the fourth day, Will said, “Very solemnly, but with a little bit of malice in my voice, I told her, ‘Ma’am, with all due respect, you can go jump off a bridge.’”

Will got sent to the principal’s office for that remark, and has since had to face the taunts of his classmates who, he said, often call him a “gay wad.” But he’s not backing down.

What’s it going to take to get Will to start saying the Pledge of Allegiance again? Very simply: Liberty and Justice for all, and that includes the right for same-sex couples to marry. “They should have the right to marry, and I won’t swear that they do,” Will said.

The reason Chris sent this to me because Will is the son of one of his best friends from high school. Here’s what Chris said: “I wanted to share this story with you for the sole reason that this 10 year old boy is probably more courageous than I will ever be. … This young man, every time I see him, always has something brilliant to say … . Just to give you a little back story, I also grew up in and attended school in West Fork Arkansas(population 1200) and I also had the same substitute teacher in question as my own 5 grade science teacher. I was open about my sexuality in high school, and unfortunately it did not make things very easy for me. So this young man being as courageous as he is, and knowing him as I do, he receives my everlasting gratitude and respect for his actions and ideas.”

Here’s the video, so you can hear Will tell the story in his own words:

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