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.