Ten-year-old refuses to salute the flag, tells teacher, “With all due respect ma’am, go jump off a bridge.”

There’s a must-read story over at parentdish about ten-year-old, Will Phillips, who refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance because he believes that one phrase in the pledge, ‘liberty and justice for all,’ does not truly apply to all. He believes that gays are excluded from that liberty and justice. His refusal did not go over well with his fifth-grade substitute teacher.

Liberty and justice for all

parentdish reports:

He started refusing to say the pledge Mon., Oct. 5. By Thursday, the substitute was steamed. She told Will she knew his mother and grandmother and they would want him to recite the pledge.

Will told the Times the substitute got more and more upset. She raised her voice. By this point, Will told the newspaper, he started losing his cool too, adding: “After a few minutes, I said, ‘With all due respect ma’am, go jump off a bridge.'”

That got him sent to the principal’s office. The principal made him look up information about the flag and what it represents. Meanwhile, there was the inevitable call to his mother.

At first, mom Laura Phillips told the Times,the principal talked about Will telling a substitute to jump off abridge. When pressed, the principal admitted the whole incident was sparked by the boy exercising his constitutional right not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Read the entire article here.

Students pledging to the flag with the Belamy salute.
The Belamy salute was in use in the USA until 1942.

Conscientious stand: metaphoric flag of freedom

Will Phillips’ experience in refusing to say the pledge reminded me of my mother’s experience in refusing to say the pledge or salute the flag as a child in the 40’s. She was being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse on religious principles to salute the flag and/or to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Even after the Supreme Court ruling, in 1943, in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that “compulsory unification of opinion” violated the First Amendment (this ruling upheld Jehovah’s Witnesses right to not salute the flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance) there was a lot of hostility and outright persecution towards those who tried to exercise their constitutional right not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or salute the flag.

In 1948, when my mother was ten years old, her thirteen-year-old brother, Martin, came home with a bloody nose from being slapped hard in the face by his teacher for not saluting the flag. Martin’s teacher was not going to tolerate any of his uppity ideas about freedom of religion — not when that freedom disrespected her flag and her country! She congratulated herself that she landed a resounding slap in defense of the republic.

My mother’s fifth grade teacher was not physically abusive but she let it be known, through classroom criticism, just how she felt about my mother not saluting the flag.

At this time school children received a break each day during which they were given free milk. They took their refreshment at their desks. So one afternoon, when all the children in my mother’s class were enjoying their milk at their desks, the teacher stood up and told the class, “You know, children, there are some among you who don’t mind drinking the free milk from the cows of our country of the United States of America. But they certainly mind saluting the flag of the United States of America!”

Since my mother was the only Jehovah’s Witness, the only one not saluting the flag in the class, this observation was pointedly about her.

My mother raised her hand and when the teacher said, “Yes, Audrey?” she stood up and said, “The bible says in Psalms 50:10 that ‘all the cattle on a thousand hills belong to God’ so the milk we are drinking is not from the United States government, it is from Jehovah God the creator.”

I smile at the thought of her, with her dark curls and blushing cheek, and her blue eyes shining with defiance.

When my grandmother confronted the teacher and the principal and reminded them that the Supreme Court had ruled that she and her children, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, had the right to not salute the flag, the right to not say the pledge, the principal told her, “You are not in the halls of the Supreme Court of the United States. You are in the halls of my school in the great state of Virginia and we respect the flag here and we salute the flag here. Your children will salute the flag or they will be expelled.”

They were expelled for a while and when they were reinstated (because the principal was, after all, subject to the rulings of the Supreme Court of the the United States of America) my mother and her siblings (all in different grades) had to go outside in the hallway while the classes were saluting the flag and reciting the pledge, in order not to incite “disturbances.”

Social isolation and shaming with the intent to bully children into behavior? Check! Social stigmatization to manipulate not-so-malleable children? Check! The type of classroom coercion that was alive and thriving in the 40’s hasn’t disappeared — it is kicking its heels up in places around the nation, most recently a fifth grade classroom in Arkansas.

Here are some interesting links for further reading on saluting the flag in the United States:

USA Today on JW’s Legal History
Opinion piece: The Pledge of Allegiance is un-American
Flag salute cases

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s