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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  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. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. “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.

  15. 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.

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