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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.”

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. The boy deserves a great deal of credit for broaching such a subject, brave and smart, good combination.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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….

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  15. “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.

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