Monday, November 23, 2009

Do kids have the right to peacefully protest?

A 10-year-old Arkansas boy is refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance at school until our country does a better job of living up to its ideals.

“I've always tried to analyze things because I want to be lawyer,” Will told The Arkansas Times. “I really don't feel that there's currently liberty and justice for all.”

You know what? I think he's got a great point.

Most of us grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance automatically every morning at school. But how many kids take the time to think about what it really means?

The Pledge of Allegiance has been an American tradition since September 8, 1892, when a Boston-based magazine called The Youth's Companion published the recitation, originally called "The Pledge to the Flag," and suggested it be read as part of the next month's Columbus Day celebrations. It read: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."

The Pledge was published anonymously and was not copyrighted; it is thought to have been written by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister who was forced to leave his church because of his Socialist sermons. The beginning of the Pledge was changed in 1924 to "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America," and the controversial "under God" was added in 1954.

Arkansas News columnist John Brummett points out that forcing kids to recite the Pledge of Allegiance "is, in fact, kind of antithetical to our very principle of constitutionally guaranteed liberty.... a mass forced pledging of nationalistic allegiance is, when you really think about it, a perversion of the greater notion that we love and support our country by our own choice and for the very freedoms it grants us."

In October, after analyzing the text and asking his parents whether he was legally obligated to participate (he's not), Will decided to remain seated and silent when his class recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The substitute teacher asked him to stand; he respectfully refused. This went on for four days, until the teacher got angry with him; Will told her "With all due respect, ma'am, you can go jump off a bridge." He was sent to the principal's office.

Will's peaceful protest has drawn ire from some pretty predictable sources. Other kids, of course -- classmates focused on the fact that he thinks gays should have the right to marry say he's "a gaywad." But he's also been slammed by more than a few adults for being disrespectful, disobedient, and unpatriotic. The comments on The Arkansas Times piece are mostly supportive, but among them are quite a few that were surprisingly vitriolic. "I remember this type of disrespect being in vogue among the lower class black kids at my high school, but I never expected to see it from a middle-class white kid," a commenter named "Ray" wrote. (Click on the "Your Comments" tab to read them.) "If you don't stand for the flag and the Republic for which it stands, you don't deserve freedom of speech," writes "Wayne." "To the parents I say 'United States of America, Love It Or Leave It, and take your little brat with you', " commenter "Monroe" added.

There's the irony, as far as I'm concerned: Exercising one's right to freedom of speech in order to insult a child for exercising his. Insisting that a kid shouldn't be free to disagree because doing so is disrespectful of the flag and everything it represents -- including freedom.

"Just because he's 10 years old doesn't mean he doesn't have opinions," Will's father, Jay Phillips, told CNN recently. "It doesn't mean he doesn't have rights and doesn't mean that he can't make a difference."

Parents, what do you think? Is civil disobedience a tool to be used by adults only, or do children have the right to peacefully protest? Where's the line when it comes to freedom?


Kate said...

This is an issue of respect, not freedom. This child has the right not to say the pledge of allegiance—that's true. The real irony here is that he is disrespecting a symbol of the very freedom he is exercising.

I think he is exploiting a concept that he doesn't understand. If his understanding of the meaning of freedom comes from his parents, I would say they're misguided. I also honestly hope they are doing their part to make this country better in the eyes of their son.

Windi said...

I believe that this child has the same rights as every one else. He was not being dissruptive or insulting to any one or the flag.He sat quietly with respect while all others said it.I would not place blame on the parents either.This child has the same god given rights as an one else does.I would not be upselt if it was my daughter.We all ahve rights.I just find it kind or messed up the way this child expressed his rights in peace while ever one else is using there rights to openly bash this kids....