Florida School Tells Fifth Grader That He Cannot Keep Both First Place Prize and His First Amendment Rights

Freedom_of_SpeechZachary-Golob-Drake-WFLAZachary Golob-Drake, a 5th grader at the Patel Partnership School in Tampa Florida was elated recently when he won first place with a speech and an invitation to compete in the 4-H Tropicana Public Speech Contest. However, his assistant principal then told him that he would be stripped of his honor because she did not like the topic of the speech, the history of people using religion to justify murder. It is the latest example of how free speech principles are routinely denied to students in public school. Here is a boy who takes on a difficult and highly advanced subject, but is told that he must either give up the first amendment or his first place prize.

Zachary reportedly had a paragraph that drew a comparison of the Crusades, Genghis Khan and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th. Pretty advanced connections for a fifth grader. However, the assistant principal to him to drop references to religion or give up his first place prize. In the meantime, she took away his ribbon, leaving him in tears when his big brother showed up to pick Zachary up. To his credit, his brother got the assistant principal to give back the ribbon and then Zachary’s mother got involved.

In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), the Supreme Court supported the first amendment rights of Iowa residents John F. Tinker (15 years old), John’s younger sister Mary Beth Tinker (13 years old), and their friend Christopher Eckhardt (16 years old) in wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. In his majority decision, Justice Abe Fortas held that “undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression.” In a statement would would seem to fit this case, Fortas found that “the record does not demonstrate any facts which might reasonably lead school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities, and no disturbances or disorders on the school premises in fact occurred.” Since Tinker, the Supreme Court has steadily limited the speech rights of students as in the ruling in the “Bong Hits For Jesus” case.

The school district’s spokeswoman Tanya Arja then stated publicly that it was not really about religion but “[t]he concern was over the topic of mass murders . . . Because these are 4th and 5th graders.” I would think that a school would be supportive of a fifth grader who is taking on such difficult subjects. Below is Zachary’s speech, which is balanced and insightful. Ironically, it is about intolerance and ignorance — clearly not purely historical concerns.

Here is the offending speech:

In the Name of Religion

The world’s major religions all have messages about coexisting. But oftentimes people have found a way to bend that rule; sometimes people even use religion as an excuse to take each other’s lives. The three major religions on the earth include the Eastern religions, Islam, and Christianity. About one billion people live by the Eastern religions; about 1.4 billion are Muslim; and about 2.3 billion are Christians. Religious differences have always sparked conflict, even leading to warfare and mass murder.

One of the most famous tensions is the Crusades. Beginning in 1065, the Crusades were a series of holy wars which were fought between Christians and Muslims. It was the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Urban II who initiated the first wave of attacks. The European Christian’s intent was to force Christianity upon the Muslim people and to win back the Holy Land, known as Jerusalem. They were some of the bloodiest wars ever fought.

In 1162, about the time the Crusades ended, Genghis Khan was born and later crowned Emperor of Mongolia. Khan was a powerful ruler who conquered many lands and civilizations, which inevitably caused the Mongolian Empire to grow. Khan became so powerful that people considered him a god. Khan was known to tell his victims before causing their deaths, “I am the flail of God; for if you were without sin, he would not have sent me upon you.”

For anyone who thinks religious tensions have ended, they have not. Modern terrorism often has to do with religion. Take the story of 911, for example. On September 11, 2001, hijackers commandeered two jets and intentionally crashed them into the Twin Towers in New York, killing thousands of unsuspecting civilians. It has been confirmed that the hijackers were Islamic extremists who wanted to punish the United States for its immoral behavior.

Religion provides moral guidance for most of the seven billion people on the earth. More than 2,500 years ago, Confuscious offered guidance through the Golden Rule when he said, “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” Both Jesus and Muhammad echoed these sentiments hundreds of years later. This world would be a better place if everybody followed that rule.

56 thoughts on “Florida School Tells Fifth Grader That He Cannot Keep Both First Place Prize and His First Amendment Rights

  1. Dear Zachary Golob-Drake,

    That was a fine speech and an academic accomplishment to be proud of, worthy of a first place prize. I wish you the very best of luck in your future studies and I’ll share a bit of wisdom from my grandfather.

    “If someone is upset when you’ve spoken the truth, it is usually an important truth.”

    Good luck, young man.

  2. “Zachary reportedly had a paragraph that drew a comparison of the Crusades, Genghis Khan and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th. Pretty advanced connections for a fifth grader.”


    Ah, religious sanctified tyranny taking another swipe at the tall trees. It’s positively Galileoian. Who needs the First Amendment. We got religion.

  3. Yeah, can’t tell those kids in schools about mass murder or anything.

    Oh, wait, yeah, you can. In second and third grade, even, they discussed 9/11 with my girlfriend’s daughter. AND SHE WASN’T EVEN BORN WHEN IT HAPPENED.

    Mass murder isn’t off-topic for elementary school kids. Never has been. Nice attempt at a cover up.

  4. Great speech, although, the Genghis Khan reference was not really apropos in a speech regarding religious tolerance. For Genghis Khan, that remark would have been more in the nature of psychological warfare, than religious zeal.

    The Mongols were brutal to those who resisted, but after completing the conquest of any given area were tolerant virtually any religion and left their conquered people to their own religious devices. (The Mongols at the time were animists/shamanists; later, Buddhism became common among them.) According to Wikipedia, religious leaders were exempt from taxation, and from public service.

    The Mongols were most concerned with receipt of tribute and the maintenance of order. As the empire grew larger, their forces were stretched, and so they could not police it themselves. They had to rely on the local power structure. The Mongols were well-known, for example, for enlisting talented administrators from China to run the empire as a whole.

  5. Great speech but Porchop has it right. The Mongols were religiously tolerant compared to other conquering empires. However, Zachary is only a fifth grader, albeit a very smart one. He was looking for examples from Asia no doubt and chose the Mongols. The various wars among Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims in India and elsewhere may have been more appropriate.

  6. What KIND of a school is it? Public? Private? Religious? Indian (as in India not Cherokee)?

    If it is a private school then the parents of those kids would do well to take them out of that well and put them somewhere else. “Patel Partnership School” sounds private, and if the same people who run the partnership are the ones who run the Quality Inn on the corner then perhaps they have some religious affiliation that wants to trump the First Amendment and not sprech the American Way. If it is Un American then their activities need to be examined. Which is why, Tampa needs an Un-American Activities Commission.

  7. Dredd 1, December 17, 2013 at 9:13 am

    Smart kid, dumb teacher.


    It doesn’t sound as if it was the teacher who made this idiotic decision. After all, Zachary’s speech won first place in his classroom. It seems to me more like an administrator/the administration overruling his class’s or his teacher’s choice of best speech.

  8. The constant complaint one hears in the US today is that Americans need to lead in all areas with initiative and individuality. Here is a student who is a leader. He sees through the ideological mumbo jumbo but unfortunately comes smack dab into the worst kind.

    The principal of his school exemplifies everything that is wrong with America. If a 5th grader can tap into proven historical events, lay them out equally founded, and, in this case, not point any fingers at any particular religion but at the use of religions by power mongers, then bravo for him. He is what America needs. He should be given the job of principal of his school, heaven knows the present principal is an anchor dragging America down.

  9. Porkchop,

    Seriously man, I know you’re a history buff, but as Mike noted, he’s a fifth grader. The work should be considered in that context.

  10. Having just finished seeing one child complete the pre-kinder to college graduate process, and becoming acquainted with many of her schoolmates along the way, I have high hopes for the future of America given the the character, competence, and the achievements of the young people I met. Zachary is another example of our stellar students. Along the way I met a few bozo teachers, but so many more were outstanding and truly cared for their charges. Administrators, however, . . . And elected Trustees, yikes!

  11. Zachary’s selection of Genghis Kahn may indicate a nascent appreciation of the intolerance and ignorance mentioned by the Professor in his closing comment: Kahn being the personification and religion the institutionalization of ignorance and intolerance. Of course, in the assistant principal we see a combination of both forms, and in its more evil manifestation — encouraging a child to remain ignorant. Administrators.

  12. The word freedom has been a facad for many years! The AP wants her freedom to say she disagrees but the kid should not have his freedom? Hey dumbass, you can not have it both ways! I love seeing kids being taught conviction by their parents. I teach my kids to always question what they hear and to not be afraid to speak out. 5th grade or not, the kid has the right to speak. The sad thing is that most adults can not articulate nor comprehend as well as this boy! If you do not agree with something, look up and thank God that you were born in a Country that allows ish you to have that opinion! Do not cut off your nose to spite your face!

  13. This was a great educational moment. “You’re free to express any opinions; as long as the authorities approve.” A life lesson for young Mr. Drake. Considering the number of places that this student will encounter in the future where the expression of a contrary opinion will have severe consequences, it’s important to convey this message early in life.

  14. It has been confirmed that the hijackers were Islamic extremists who wanted to punish the United States for its immoral behavior.

    I think that most of what he said was excellent with the exception of this one sentence. I think that a more accurate one would be that the hijackers viewed all western values as being immoral as the reason for the 9/11 attack. In FACT the US supported the Afghan fight against the Soviets and helped them win the civil war there. I think that the US was stupid and immoral in doing that since the Soviet supported regime while bad was FAR better than what came afterwards for the ordinary people there.

    The Taliban had just been given almost $300 million for anti-drug efforts just before 9/11. The US had committed NO crimes at all against them. The UN demanded that the Taliban turn over Bin Laden for trial, and they refused. At which point the UN authorized its members to take military action and boycotts against the regime. It was in fact the Taliban which was immoral in supporting terrorists, and the mass murder of many Africans before 9/11.

    So the FACT is that the US prior to 9/11 had only done nice things for the Taliban. The complaint by such Islamic extremists is that ALL western culture is immoral. That is the whole reason for Al Qeada’s existence. They object and consider that teaching women to become literate is immoral, women’s liberation is wrong, all other religions are an affront to Islam, freedom of speech, the press, and religion is immoral in their view. THAT is the reason for 9/11, not any actual immoral actions on the part of the US government.

  15. Gene H.

    It wasn’t intended to be a mean-spirited comment. I think the kid did a great job, (But I did, in fact, know those facts about Genghis Khan when I was in fifth grade. ;-)

    But the reality is that the Mongol Empire is a counterexample supporting the argument he is making. Strictly enforced religious toleration and neutrality strengthened the Mongol Empire, especially in the area of free trade. Of course, the methods of enforcement were such that they would be frowned upon today, but once the norm was established, the Empire could turn to other matters — like internecine disputes over succession, which eventually divided the empire and them led to its fall.

  16. “encouraging a child to remain ignorant” (Oro Lee)

    Excellent description of the Administrator’s actions.

    Too bad the young man isn’t on this blog as I would very much like to read his answers to the constructive criticisms others have offered. I suspect he would be able to support his positions.

  17. Appears to be a very bright young man…. I’m glad he has an older brother that got his ribbon back…..

    Am I feeling the affects of Dante……. The sun is not the center of the universe…. Everyone knows that…. And the earth is still flat….

  18. The kid is in fifth grade. He is pondering a serious question. He didn’t include all the things that might be included in an article in the Encyclopedia Britannica, but his conclusion, his conclusion is fine: that many people don’t act in accord with the tenets of the book they thump.

  19. Good job for a student at your grade level.. however it has been confirmed that the events of 9/11 were orchestrated by none other than the american government. This is not simply a conspiracy. When the majority of society believes it was an internal cover-up (currently over 60% of Americans), we are obligated to adopt the fact that this is not a conspiracy, but general knowledge.

  20. This Youngman is the exception to what is becoming the rule of just how smart the kids coming out of the educational system in these times are supposed to be. ZACH YOU ARE A EXCEPTIONAL YOUNG MAN.

  21. in todays climate and the fact that the corporation no longer attempts to hide their crimes or keep up the pretence of being a government any longer it no longer amazes me that there are some people who are still trying blame 9/11 on muslim extremist. when that lie has been debunked many times over and its been proven time and again that 9/11 was a insurance scam which took the lives of innocents yes but then it wasnt and if they have their way won’t be the last time in the elites quest to rule the world outright…religion (Muslim) vs religion ( jewish) is what 9/11 was really about. and just like many others I AM ENTITLED TO MY OPINIONS and or what i deem to be facts.. not to blame every man, woman or child from either religion…. but i do blame THOSE WHO ARE ACTIVELY involved in the deception and criminality of trying to enslave humanity for their own sport because their bored in life.

  22. Great speech by an articulate 5th grader. It is a shame that the administrator cannot be as intelligent as his 5th grade student.

  23. It pleases me to read a speech of this caliber delivered by such an articulate fifth grader.

    I hope his next speech will be “The diminishing liberty of subjugated children at the Patel Partership School.”

  24. rafflaw:

    “It is a shame that the administrator cannot be as intelligent as his 5th grade student.”

    Sadly, it appears that, these days, it is not a “shame”, but rather a bona fide occupational qualification. You know, there was a TV show about that, a few years ago — it turned out that most contestants were not smarter than a fifth-grader. I hope I am not painting with too broad a brush here — I like most teachers, but administrators tended to annoy me when my children were in school.

  25. The school district’s spokeswoman Tanya Arja then stated publicly that it was not really about religion but “[t]he concern was over the topic of mass murders . . . Because these are 4th and 5th graders.”

    Mass murder is for after school with x-box and the boob-tube.

  26. The End of Childhood in the Era of the Emerging American Police State

    By John W. Whitehead
    December 16, 2013



    Alongside the zero tolerance mess is the general censorship of student viewpoints when discussing topics which are not approved by school administrators. For example, when a Pennsylvania student newspaper decided to run an editorial explaining why they found the term “Redskin,” the nickname of the school’s athletic teams, insensitive, and why they would no longer use the name in the school newspaper, the school administration reprimanded the students and demanded they continue to use the term. In another case, a student journalist in Virginia was reprimanded for writing a column on sexuality-based bullying, also known as “slut-shaming,” because the article contained words and phrases such as “sexual” and “breast-feeding.”

    Considering students in high school are on the cusp of adulthood, legally and otherwise, the attempts to censor them when they engage in debates that are occurring on a daily basis on television and in the newspapers isn’t simply obnoxious, but threatens the integrity of society as well. If students are being taught to self-censor, they will be ineffective citizens. They will internalize ideas contrary to basic American principles, namely that all people should be allowed to speak their minds as they see fit.

    In fact, according to the Knight Foundation, students who are taught on the value of the First Amendment are more likely to agree with statements such as “people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions” or “newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval.” However, for those who’ve not received such instruction, they seem more doubtful of the value of free speech.

    Thus, one can easily see how the zero tolerance/censorship regime which dominates American public education can easily translate into a disaster for civil society at large in the coming years.

    We’ve chosen to terminate natural childhood development in favor of strict adherence to authority and muting unique, interesting, and valid viewpoints in favor of maintaining the status quo. Worse than this, however, is the fact that we’re setting ourselves up for the complete destruction of our democratic society and our democratic institutions in favor of an authoritarian bureaucratic apparatus which manages a population of automatons, unable to think for themselves.

    Call it the end of childhood, call it the end of innocence, call it the end of imagination. What it will eventually amount to is the termination of freedom in the United States.

  27. Elaine M. 1, December 17, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Dredd 1, December 17, 2013 at 9:13 am

    Smart kid, dumb teacher.


    It doesn’t sound as if it was the teacher who made this idiotic decision. After all, Zachary’s speech won first place in his classroom. It seems to me more like an administrator/the administration overruling his class’s or his teacher’s choice of best speech.

    Smart kid, dumb administrator.

  28. The Tinker Tour has been touring the United States and bringing First Amendment discussions to the fore. I hope they can go to Tampa. If you Google: Tinker Tour their website will come up. Mary Beth Tinker and her husband are making the tour. Tinker v. Bd of Education of Des Moines, IA is one of the premier First Amendment cases yet decided. These kids in Tampa need to get their black armbands and march on the school board. The Principal needs to sweep the floors and the janitor needs to take over the Principal’s job.

  29. Just to get it on record, the assistant principal’s name is Candice Dodd at the Patel Partnership School in Tampa.

    Here is their faculty web page. http://usfpatel.mysdhc.org/faculty

    The principal is Keith Laycock, but the one who really needs to be involved is the school psychologist, Brandy Riviere. Or perhaps Jill Kramer, the social worker.

    Not for Zach, but for the school administration. Our own occasional commenter, Theatre Goon, has a thought about this:

  30. OS My thoughts exactly! I am glad you said this since your qualifications and experience in this area are FAR superior to mine. I hope the school board will mandate this since the principal and administration are in serious need of help.

  31. I think is is fear of saying a universal body rather than a group do unacceptable acts. After all, MLK etc should not have their beliefs sullied – would you not say ?

  32. Can someone send the Principal and her principal assistants the blog topic here with all of our comments?

    If I was Patel and was still alive I would ask to have the school name changed.

    Tampa? I thought that such a place was civilized. Sounds like Pirate Territory.

  33. Another screaming reason to get your kids out of the brainwash factory that is the public school system. You can still legally homeschool your kids in all 50 states. It is worth the investment.

    I appreciate his critical thought process and willingness to stick to his guns. He does need to get past his encyclopedia/public school history of the crusades and do some deeper research. The lessons we learn by error are often the best ones . . .

  34. How cute and sad at the same time, the poor kid believes the 9/11 official story fairy tale. We’ll give him a little time, he’s SURE to wake up when he sees what over 2000 Architect and Engineers and many other scholars, educators, researchers, activists, and ordinary folks willing to think have to say about it world-wide. He’ll look back later when he’s older and understands Newton’s Laws, Laws of thermodynamics, and Law of conservation of momentum is all about. Oh, and wait till he here’s the direct testimony from over 118+ people who heard and saw explosions coming from all 3 towers. Three? Oh that’s right, wait till the poor kid hears about WTC building 7, which was not hit by a plane yet came straight down at free-fall speed for over 100 feet, perfectly symmetric and into its own footprint. I’d like to think good kids like this ALWAYS eventually wake up.

  35. “Another screaming reason to get your kids out of the brainwash factory that is the public school system.”

    When did they start calling American Public Schools “Patel Partnership School?” Sounds pretty much like a charter job to me.

  36. bernie:

    “How cute and sad at the same time, the poor kid believes the 9/11 official story fairy tale.”

    This comment repeats and incorporates the foregoing “Pirate Facepalm” video as if fully set forth herein.

  37. I think Zach properly qualified his comments in regard to the twin towers: “Take the story of 911, for example.”

    Another way Khan controlled his empire is through the rape of the women he conquered.

    There is the saying of those who can, do and those who can’t, teach. It’s always bothered me. Who taught those who “do”? It think those who can’t “do” or can’t “teach” are the ones who become administrators.

  38. Mooser: I Googled the name Patel and Patel Partnership. What I learned is that there was and is a doctor who figured out how to set up his own practice and an industry of clinics and thence used some of his riches to found a Patel Partnership with education goals. This public school was named in his honor. So, its a public school named after a good Indian capitalist who has donated money to improve education. He would probably agree with most of us on the issue of free speech but on the other hand he has not chimed in.

    I sort of agree with those that say that public schools suck and that home school is an answer. Except here at the marina where we have a dogpac and some humans who are blind or half blind it would be like the dogs leading the blind and the offspring of both.

  39. Home schooling works for those students who have parents who have some proficiency in at least the 3 R’s and a bit of appreciation for encouraging the natural curiosity of their kids. Unfortunately, too many homes, including a number of them that actually home school, just don’t measure up. Their kids are learning less than they would in a not very good public school.

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