Why a 10-Year-Old Boy Has My Respect November 12, 2009

Why a 10-Year-Old Boy Has My Respect

***Update***: Join the “Will Phillips – you are awesome!” Facebook group!

I have a new hero.

His name is Will Phillips and he’s 10.

Part of the reason I like him is because he doesn’t stand up during the Pledge of Allegiance. It has nothing to do with the “Under God” phrase, though.

Listen to the wonderful way he articulates why he doesn’t want to do it:

Will’s family has a number of gay friends. In recent years, [mother] 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.”

At the end of our interview, I ask young Will a question that might be a civics test nightmare for your average 10-year-old. Will’s answer, though, is good enough — simple enough, true enough — to give me a little rush of goose pimples. What does being an American mean?

“Freedom of speech,” Will says, without even stopping to think. “The freedom to disagree. That’s what I think pretty much being an American represents.”

Awesome. Most adults can’t articulate a decent answer to that question.

But here’s the clincher and the reason Will deserves your respect. Because of his family’s support of the GLBT community, you can guess what the other kids say about him:

“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.”

Will is still holding true to his beliefs, though, because he know what he stands for. Those kids don’t understand so they say whatever they can to make him feel bad.

(Don’t back down, Will! A lot of us are looking up to you.) He has a level of maturity that most high schoolers never attain, much less a 5th grader.

How incredible is that?

Hats off to David Koon of the Arkansas Times for bringing this story to a larger audience.

(Thanks to Richard P. for the link!)

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  • Claudia

    Awesome. Is there anywhere we can go online to send support his way? I think it would be nice to demonstrate to him that the kiddie world may be too immature for him, but the wider adult world supports and admires him.

  • ennui

    I’d be proud to teach a kid like that. There’s hope for the new generation after all.

  • Valdyr

    “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.”

    Young Phoenix Wright, ladies and gentlemen. This kid is awesome.

  • Is this him talking or his parents? I’m not sure that this is any different from the son of Catholic parents talking about how committed a Christian he is.

    I would hope that he continues down the equality and freedom path but think it’s a bit too early to tell for sure.

  • I’ll say. It’s great to see kids aware of issues and making a stand over them. It’s nothing I would have thought of doing.

  • PrimeNumbers

    Great kid with great answers!

  • Heidi

    OMFSM, I love this kid. <3

    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, a retired educator from the district, who knew Will’s mother and grandmother. Though the substitute tried to make him stand up, he respectfully refused. He did it again the next day, and the next day. Each day, the substitute got a little more cross with him. On Thursday, 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.’ ”

  • H

    He has a level of maturity that most high schoolers never attain, much less a 5th grader.

    Actually you could replace “high schoolers” with adults in this statement and it’d still be true.

  • I wish this kid well, he’s got integrity in spades.

    Though the realist in me hopes his parents will take him to an Aikido dojo or something because he’s gonna get beat up a bit.

  • Twin-Skies


    Or Apollo Justice, if you’re following the franchise’s more recent releases.

  • bill

    Is this him talking or his parents? I’m not sure that this is any different from the son of Catholic parents talking about how committed a Christian he is.

    I was thinking the same thing, but at least if he is just repeating what his parents say, it’s about open-mindedness and equality. It’s also a sign that he has a good starting point to form his own opinions as he grows older.

  • TXatheist

    It’s still acceptable to call someone gaywad? I thought we were better than this. Anyway, good for the kid, especially at 10.

  • *Sniff* A kid after my own heart. What a great guy. I stopped standing for the pledge in middle school because of the god stuff and because I thought it was illogical for anyone to promise loyalty to anything. Trust, loyalty and respect are earned and maintained, not blindly offered. It wasn’t anything I discussed with my parents, just something I came to in time.

    I got called a satanic communist which always seemed hilarious. I don’t think I ever would have been as eloquent as this child and I don’t think I ever thought past my own personal feelings the way he does. What a great kid.

  • I’ve read your blog for quite some time, admittedly through Google Reader. I’ve only visited the main site a couple of times, and I’ve never left a comment. However, I felt the need to come right over to the site and say that this kid inspired me, and I have a sort of relevant story.

    I am a High School student in Alaska. For years, I have stood up, but not recited the pledge. My reasons being some quite similar to Will Phillips’. When asked why I don’t recite the pledge, I tell them. I’ve always stood during the pledge, just because that’s what I was raised to do. Never once did I consider sitting down for the pledge, and never once did I consider the fact that people who couldn’t see my mouth still saw me reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

    However, that will be the last time. This kid has inspired me to join the group and be the first that I’ve seen at my High School (and even in all of my years of schooling) to refuse to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve researched, and have cited a few Alaska State Statutes in a notebook, to reference to in case that I am confronted by a teacher.

    My hat goes off to Will Phillips, what an impressive kid.

  • Robyn

    Yes! That’s why I stopped saying it as a kid. It wasn’t because I supported GLBT people, but certainly because not everyone was getting justice. Good on ‘im!

  • Bronzepot

    If someone calls you a gaywad, just call in the unicorns to take care of it.

  • Heidi

    That’s excellent, dnRoyston. I wish you well with it.

  • muggle

    Great kid! And brave.

    Yet another reason the pledge should go. He’s right, of course. And somehow I doubt we ever will have liberty and justice for all. Sadly.

    Beyond the under God thing, it also really creeps me out that they make little kids pledge loyalty to this nation. Kids can’t even enter into a contract but they’re coerced in school on a daily basis to make one with this nation.

  • Wow. Gaywad is making a comeback?

  • Emily

    For everyone who wants to leave him a message:

    Here is a different link to the article. I read through the comments, and one was from someone who at least claimed to be his mother. I’d say this is probably your best bet to get a message to him.


  • Ben

    Pretty impressive…

    It would be great to see something like this catch on among adults as well.

    I’d love to see a stadium of people remain seated during the pledge at a sporting event.

  • Linda

    In Arkansas, no less. He is very brave.

  • Sandra S

    This whole pledge of allegiance thing sounds like something straight out of George Orwell’s 1984. Demanding of every janitor and school house in the US to swear loyalty to the union? Thats insane! The fact that the whole nation hasn’t been riddled with riots due to the — excuse my expression — piss poor job of rebuilding post-war Iraq should be quite enough to prove the loyalty of the people.

  • Korinthian

    Re: Parents speaking through their kid.

    It’s one thing to parrot your parents, but quite another to get bullied for what you say and still stick with your (parents’) principles.

  • Ulrich

    @Sandra S: I wonder how many staunch supporters of the Pledge know that it was originally created by a Socialist – along with a perfect Hitler salute lookalike

  • Heidi

    @Emily: Thanks. I hadn’t read the comments. Did you notice there was also one from someone called “Kelly C” who said she is George Carlin’s daughter? Even if she isn’t, I like her for saying that she is. And for saying “Joe bless you” to Will. 🙂

    @SandraS: It feels like 1984, too.

  • Miko

    I stopped saying the Pledge somewhere around 10th grade, exactly at the moment when I thought about what the words really meant. To my credit, it was primarily the “pledge” clause that got me and not the “under God” bit (although many people assumed the latter since I was already a fairly outspoken atheist).

    I think he’s got the right idea about what it means to be an American. Our country was created by consciously rejecting history, by asserting the right of (some) individuals to self-determination. Being an American is about freedom of ideas, freedom to dissent, refusal to be cowed by threats from authority, refusal to be bound by the easy solutions and a willingness to work with others peaceably to achieve such goods as liberty and justice.

    This is also a distinct question from being a “United States citizen,” as the latter is primarily determined by living within a certain geographical territory and means acknowledging that a certain group has a monopoly on trying to get their way through the use of violence and threats thereof. Even after the United States ceases to exist as a functional entity, we’ll still be Americans, probably even more American than we are currently.

    Is this him talking or his parents? I’m not sure that this is any different from the son of Catholic parents talking about how committed a Christian he is.

    Assuming his explanation is accurate, it doesn’t sound like he’s just quoting his parents. They probably provided the sort of environment where independent thought is acceptable, but by the nature of that they also had at most limited control over what that thought would be and none at all over how it would manifest itself.

    The fact that the whole nation hasn’t been riddled with riots due to the — excuse my expression — piss poor job of rebuilding post-war Iraq should be quite enough to prove the loyalty of the people.

    First off, there is no such thing as post-war Iraq. To get such a thing, we’d need to end the war first.

    “Loyalty” isn’t the word I’d pick in this context. The problem is partly that we’ve been tricked and partly the common knowledge that any attempt at revolution would fail. Democracy was a powerful libertarian invention, created to ensure government consisted only of governance (rather than tyranny), but current American politics are showing the limits of it. Democracy was never intended to work on the scale of 300,000,000 people, especially not 300,000,000 people ‘represented’ by 100+435+2 people (approx. 50% of whom are millionaires and 35% of whom have income of at least one million dollars per year). Let’s look at how it worked: the Democrats promised that they’d end the war, and voting seemed like a more desirable act than revolution and/or civil disobedience (as a pacifist, I’d opt for the latter), so we went against our better judgment and supported them in 2002-2008. And the excuses kept coming (“we need to retake the Congress, we need 60 seats in the Senate, we need the Oval Office”) until they got everything they wanted, and then they expanded the wars even further. So what did people do? Well, we decided to rebuke the Democrats and voted for the Republicans in 2009, as if that’s going to help anything. I mean, that’s not even going to be enough to stop the lobbyist’s health-insurance profit-expansion bill.

    We have two political choices, neither of which cares about the rights and concerns of the citizens. And we have a powerful military and police force, equipped with nuclear weapons, to keep us from complaining too much and instructed to regard protesters as terrorists. So, not “loyalty;” it doesn’t count as loyalty unless we have another option.

  • Baktru

    Think homosexuals have it tough in the USA? Pffrt…


  • Margy

    What an intelligent, articulate, thoughtful boy! It must be heaven to have a son like Will! I hope he finds the strength to keep standing up for what he believes.

    I hadn’t given much thought to the pledge, except for the “under God” phrase, but Will certainly has a point. I will not be standing for the pledge anymore, either.

    Thanks, Will, for opening my eyes!

  • Is this him talking or his parents? I’m not sure that this is any different from the son of Catholic parents talking about how committed a Christian he is.

    Of course his parents influence much of what he says and does. That’s true for all 10-year-olds. But he attends a public school where he is exposed to many different people and ideas. The difference is that he has been taught reason, which enables him to sort through those ideas and back up what he says. Unlike Xtian kids who taught by their parents to be parrots their whole lives.

  • Carol

    Wow, are people reading some of the comments posted at the Arkansas Times? Here’s a juicy one:

    “If homosexuals truly want equal rights they need to embrace typical conservative social values and try to blend in as just another couple not some special, weird minority that needs special treatment and doesn’t believe in anything American.”

    So let’s see… if gays truly want equal rights, they just need to embrace “conservative social values” and stop being gay! I get it! That’s how gays can get equal rights – just go straight! Easy! And then they won’t be asking for “special treatment” – you know, the right to marry the person they love, just like all straights can. I mean, we can’t have just ANYONE decide who they can and cannot marry! This is America! No, we want a whole world of happy heterosexual couples with beaming children who blindly do whatever they (parents, ministers, the Bible, authority figures) say. And if you’re not a happy heterosexual couple, pretend to be one. And if you disagree with anything I’ve said, then you’re obviously unpatriotic!

    Ah, those bigoted conservative thinkers. They never cease to amaze.

  • Laura Phillips

    Hi all, my name is Laura Phillips, and I am Will’s mother. He is not just voiceing what he hears at home. I do not stand for or say the pledge but my husband does. Will came to his decision himself, after weighing the consequences. Give him some credit 🙂
    The arktimes.com website has a few blogs about him from last month. Also, he was asked to speak at a fundraiser a few weeks ago. That speech is on youtube.
    If you have any questions, we will be glad to answer!
    Thank you all!
    and on facebook…

  • Yes, Carol, you get it. Some animals are more equal than others. If you want to be more equal you can join them and be assimilated. If not you can stay among the lower castes of society. That’s the choice they offer you; be true to yourself and suffer the consequences or live a lie and have it all.

  • Sandra S

    Miko: There is a post-war Iraq depending on how you define it. The official regime and army was defeated and so in that sense it is post-war, you wouldn’t usually treat combat with civilian armed forces, albeit numerous, in private employ (if employ is even the right word, since they’re probably not being paied) as a war. It’s especially post-war if the official forces of the country (the police, not the army since for some extremely stupid reason the US council that handled this disbanded them) are actually also fighting these “armies”.

    And while I to a certain extent agree with you, there is no doubt that there are a whole lot of completely loyal people. People who are so stuck in this “my country wrong or right”, and that I would call loyalty even if it is due to ignorance (or pure insanity).

    Also, the reason you’re stuck with two parties in the US is not because there are no other parties; it’s because its the only two parties you vote for. Vote for the Libertarian Party or something next time. Granted, it might just bring about the same result, I wouldn’t know. Maybe democracy doesn’t, indeed, fit a country of 300 million; to quote Churchill “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.

    Of course, in the end my comment wasn’t even really about whether the citizens of the United States had already proven themselves loyal or not, it was merely to remark how crazy the pledge of allegiance was in the first place.

  • Heidi

    and then they expanded the wars even further.

    My friend and all his people just returned to Hawaii from Iraq (they’d been leaving in smaller groups over the past few weeks). So there are plenty of people coming home.

    we decided to rebuke the Democrats and voted for the Republicans in 2009

    Who is this “we” of whom you speak? After the Bush theocracy, I wouldn’t vote for a republican if s/he was the only one running. And if the opponent democrat was shown eating babies on live TV, I still wouldn’t vote for a republican. (And no, I’m not a member of any political party.)

  • Also a second (original?) facebook group one of his friend apparently made for him??
    “Will the Mighty…” http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=150229855628&ref=mf

  • Charon

    Brave and thoughtful kid.

    I took a more piecemeal approach, myself. I just stopped saying the bits I disagreed with. “Under god” went when I was around 10, “with liberty and justice for all” around 12, more bits followed, and I stopped saying it full stop… 8th grade, maybe? And didn’t have to stand up to anyone about it until 10th grade, when I argued with a teacher about it. 11th grade is when I had to pull out West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette.

    Takes a bit of force to do it all in one go, and at 10. And for a cause, too. (I stopped saying “with liberty and justice for all” because I didn’t believe it for a myriad of rather generic reasons.)

  • Richard Wade

    To Laura Phillips,
    I only want to say that your son is an inspiration to me. He has great courage and integrity, more than most adults. Being ten years old makes him simply amazing.

    I wish both you and him all the best.

  • Claudia

    To Mrs. Phillips, thanks so much for dropping in. I assume your son is aware that his actions are much admired by plenty of people. Please do tell him however that his simple but brave actions have served as an inspiration far and wide. I live on the other side of the globe, in Spain, so his actions in Arkansas have been felt far away.


  • muggle


    I know you’re proud of your son but tell him we’re much impressed with his bravery. It is because of kids like him that I do have hope for the future. Usually, you don’t hear of them making a stand until high school or college. His courage is admirable.

    I have a grandson in first grade. In NY, not Arkansas, but still, please tell him I thank him on behalf of my grandson for drawing attention to this issue.

  • teammarty

    While there were a couple “Zieg Heil or get out” kind of comments, I am amazed at how many comments (95+%) were supportive. Would there be that much support if he did that in the People’s Republic of Ann Arbor?

  • Heidi


    I just want to say one more time how impressed I am with your son’s courage and determination. Good job raising a thinker. 🙂

  • @ Laura Philips,

    That’s the sign of a great parent. Kudos to you and your husband for raising such a fine young man. I hope my efforts prove half as rewarding as yours.

  • kudos to the kis parents!

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