Sunday, October 11, 2009

Constitutional Ignorance in West Fork

Will Phillips, a 10-year-old fifth grader at West Fork Middle School, has taken a courageous stand for his beliefs, and it landed him in the principal's office after an argument with a substitute teacher over his refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Young Master Will balked at saying “with liberty and justice for all,” because he didn't think there was equality for everyone. Imagine the insolence of refusing to say what you are told by the authority of the state and a substitute teacher!

The idea of compelling school children to salute the flag and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance was declared unconstitutional in 1943. You would think that, even in West Fork, a substitute teacher would have known about that and caught on after three score and six years. Instead, she told Will that his mother and grandmother would want him to stand and pledge. He replied, "With all due respect, you can go jump off a bridge." That does seem like all respect due to such a teacher, but it earned him a trip to the principal's office, an order to apologize to the teacher, and an additional research assignment on the pledge of allegiance.

If anyone is owed an apology, it is Will Phillips. He was exercising a well-established First Amendment right and was jerked around for doing so. The West Fork School Board, the middle school principal, and all of the teachers should be given an additional research assignment to read the United States Supreme Court decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.

It is no excuse, as principal Becky Ramsey said, "Any school where I’ve ever been in Arkansas, they say the Pledge of Allegiance first period,” but at least she admitted, "We cannot mandate that every child says the pledge." The Supreme Court said more eloquently:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. …We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.

That's the lesson that Will Phillips was trying to teach the teacher.


  1. Someone should, in a way that isn't stalker-ish or creepy, find out how to contact this kid and let him know about this. Then he can write his forced essay about how all this was ruled illegal by the highest court of the land.

  2. "With all due respect, you can go jump off a bridge."

    that's just awesome. I hope that on his research assignment he also finds out not only that he doesn't have to say it, but also that it was originally written by a christian socialist (that should make some heads explode)and that "under god" wasn't added until 1954. Oh, and that the whole pledge only dates from 1892, so it's hardly a founding principle of Americanism.

  3. He was not required to do additional research; the principal only suggested it.

    The substitute teacher should have to apologize to the student for bringing up the subject of his mama-- and his mama's mama. One should not be talkin' 'bout his mama.

  4. "... compelling school children to salute the flag and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance was declared unconstitutional in 1943" but City Council and Quorum Court include this in official meetings and the audience is expected to chime in. I can see how someone might get confused about what's ok to ask kids to do.

  5. When I was in first grade in 1946 in Louisiana, we were not told that saying the pledge was optional and we recited it willingly, I believe. The weird thing was when the UNDER GOD phrase was added much later. I don't remember anyone asking us to pledge our allegiance in high school, so I am always slow to remember to put that phrase in when the pledge is being said at some meetings I attend.
    I certainly pledge my allegiance. But it is often better shown by speaking up against greed, ignorance, injustice and intolerance than by reciting the pledge. I actually taught one year (1964-65) in a college in Mississippi that required a person to sign a statement that he was not a communist.
    Teaching in Mississippi in 1964 certainly didn't pay enough ($ 5,000 for nine months of full-time teaching) to attract many capitalists. So they were lucky to get anyone to do the job. I don't know what year that "loyalty oath" was dropped from hiring requirements in southern states.
    Maybe the most remarkable thing was that having people sign that document was thought to ensure that "communists" didn't apply and lie. But that was the day when our movie heroes were cowboys who always fought fair or Knights in armor who also followed a code of honor in battle, etc. Boxers used only their hands and hit only above the waist and never from behind. Ear-biting was unheard of except in a loving, gentle context and kick-boxing and similar so-called martial arts would have been shocking content for a television network with "sports" in its name. So, even those with beliefs different from those of the average American were credited with having some code of honor. Otherwise, the signature assuring one's having no affiliation with the communist party would have been considered worthless. It probably actually caused some to read up on communism to find out what it actually meant. Back then, it was just a bad label to put on people one didn't agree with.

  6. Resistance is futile!

  7. I have a hard time believing a 10 year old would be that forward thinking on his or her own. Likely they were coached.

  8. About 2 years ago Dr. Stephen Smith (UA) gave an outstanding presentation at Fay Public Library about local Jehovah Witnesses problems with a local school system (Lincoln ?), the state government and if memory serves me accurately,eventually the feds.
    It took place before the SCOTUS ruling mentioned above.

    JWs do not take pledges or swear oaths. They refuse to practice any form of nationalism. This got them some severe punishment in Hitler's Germany and won them the wrath of U.S. gov during WW II. Old timers told me if you want to prevent JWs from handing out their religious tracts at your home, fly a U.S. flag (check with aubunique on that).

    Stephen's public lecture was attended by the surviving student of that time. She is a grandmother today, perhaps a great grandmother and a very graceful woman. They were ostracized in ways unimaginable. If memory serves me correctly the SCOTUS ruling of 1943 ended the family's harassment.

    A picture of our Nazi-like flag salute of those times is on my name.


  9. Hope young master Phillips is applauded by classmates, parents, teachers and administrators for being the hero that he is.

    You've taught us ALL a lot, young sir. Thank you.

  10. The real issue is not equality for all, but rather that a Christian must pledge his allegiance to God, not the flag.

  11. its young will's mama here, he was SO not coached. dad says the pledge, mom does not. thanks for the support!!

  12. Mom, I hope you are taking notes for Will to do his bogus essay on. Namely, how this is illegal and unjustifiable. West Fork, AR looks strangely like Berlin, Germany circa 1940s under Hitler's rule. Has Becky ever heard of the Constitution or that little Amendment Oh what's the number oh yeah the FIRST...FREEDOM of SPEECH. It applies to children too. Freedom to express their views, even if they happen to differ from the schools or popular opinion. Good for Will. Good for someone for having a thought outside the establishment and standing up for what is fair and decent even if it is not popular. Shame on Becky and the Sub. They had an opportunity to grow beyond the small borders of the sleepy town, but instead made themselves part of the problem and the ignorance.

  13. Sometimes you just can't fix "STUPID"! (and by the way.....I am SO glad your back, I've missed you!)

  14. Anonymous who said "I have a hard time believing a 10 year old would be that forward thinking on his or her own. Likely they were coached."

    I know the boy's parents and I can assure you that he was in no way 'coached'. His dad has differing opinions than he does, but respects his son's individuality, as any good parent should.

  15. Good job for defending your right to not say the pledge, but if you tell a sub to "jump off a bridge" you deserve to got to the principal's office.

    Signed, a teacher who doesn't believe in the pledge but believes in good manners.

  16. Anonymous 5:08 PM--

    Good point. When rational discussion meets poor impulse control, discussion loses.

  17. John Brummett finally has an article in the Morning News today on the incident.

  18. Good post. There is so much offensive about the Pledge that needs to be said.

    Francis Bellamy (cousin of author Edward Bellamy) was a socialist in the Nationalism movement and authored the Pledge of Allegiance (1892), the origin of the stiff-armed salute adopted much later by the National Socialist German Workers Party. See the work of the symbologist Dr. Rex Curry.

    The early pledge began with a military salute that was then extended out toward the flag. In practice, the second gesture was performed palm-down with a stiff-arm when the military salute was merely pointed out at the flag. Thus, the military salute led to the Nazi salute in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States.

    It was not an ancient Roman salute. That is a myth debunked by Dr. Curry, who showed that the myth came from the Pledge.

    American national socialists (including Edward Bellamy), in cooperation with Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society, popularized the use of the Swastika (an ancient symbol) as a modern symbol for socialism long before the symbol was adopted by the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazis).

    The Bellamys influenced the National Socialist German Workers Party and its dogma, rituals and symbols (including the modern use of the swastika as crossed S-letters for "Socialism" under German National Socialism). Similar alphabetical symbolism was used under the NSDAP for the "SS" division, the "SA," the "NSV," et cetera and similar symbolism is visible today as the Volkswagen VW logo.

  19. Better try more than one source. For a more comprehensive take on the salute, see for example

  20. For the "good manners" teacher:

    I'm a teacher too and I think (with no disrespect intended) that you have it a bit backwards. An adult educator repeatedly tried to make this boy something she had no right to make him do. When he refused over a period of days, she brought up his family to try to guilt and shame him into doing something he doesn't believe in.

    The lack of manners lies with her. For a boy Will's age, I think he reacted above reproach. He didn't curse and wasn't threatening. While maybe it would have been better for him to say nothing, I'm personally glad he stood up for himself. It gives me hope that the system of standardized tests and repetitive knowledge won't win out over analytical thinking and actual individuality.

    In general:

    I feel bad that other students are mocking Will for what he's done. He doesn't deserve that. The cool thing is, one day his peers (when they're older and less narrow in their thinking) will think that what he did was actually really cool. If I'd met him in college, I'd have been really impressed with his story. It just takes time to get to that peer group.

    Bravo to his parents for standing up for him. You're the sort of people I wish all my students had standing in their corner.

  21. Thanks for sticking up for Will and for mentioning WVA v Barnette. Good on him!

  22. To Thine Own Self Be TrueNovember 20, 2009 at 6:40 AM

    While Will is certainly very articulate and even eloquent, I do believe he was, if not coached, at least semi-indoctrinated by his parents, esp his mother.
    I would believe this was a more authentic act if it was coming from the son of a conservative, or if his parents weren't so vocal in all media instead of just letting Will speak. As it stood, both his mother and father have been overly vocal in the radio, tv, and print interviews. They have crusaded for gay marriage on their own and Will has been influenced by that. Also, when the parents search out and comment on blogs, start a facebook page for 'the cause', and speak to every media outlet, and are activists for gay rights, it's fishy. Let your son TRULY think and speak for himself Laura.
    We have seen this kind of thing time and time again, with Marla Olmstead, Balloon Boy, The Gosselin kids, The 6 year old chef, 10 year old Tavi, the fashion 'prodigy', the tiny advocate of homeschooling who had to give an interview about it. All these kids had overbearing parents who, while well meaning, had their own agendas they knowingly or unknowingly superimposed on their children. They also encouraged their kids in stunts that they knew would gain media attention. That is not right.
    Know that kids deep down want earnestly to please their parents above all, even the really smart kids. There is a fine line between educating them and influencing them too much with your own agenda. Their innocence should never be made media fodder for a political agenda, until they reach the age of consent.

  23. Sure his parents influenced him. Don't we ALL influence our kids? I'm glad to see parents influencing their children to support civil rights for all. Way to go!!!