5th Grader Told He Can’t Take Part in Speech Contest Because His Essay Mentions the Harm Caused by Religion

5th grader Zachary Golob-Drake was supposed to deliver a speech to his fellow 4th and 5th grade classmates yesterday morning. It wasn’t just any speech. It was a speech that was chosen to be the best in his class and Thursday morning was his chance to win a spot as one of the representatives to the regional 4-H Tropicana Public Speech contest.

That glory came to a sudden halt on Wednesday when the assistant principal at USF/Patel Partnership Elementary School in Tampa, Florida pulled Zachary aside to tell him he would have to rewrite his speech or drop out of the contest.

Zachary Golob-Drake holding his first place ribbon

Why? Because Zachary’s speech was all about how religious extremism has hurt humanity and how we’d all be better off following the Golden Rule (like Jesus and Muhammad wanted, he added):

But Golob-Drake says the assistant principal pulled him aside before school was dismissed and told him his speech was inappropriate.

“She started talking to me about how she thought my speech wasn’t appropriate for 4th and 5th graders and she thought that probably I would have to rewrite my speech, take the religion out or not compete.”

“She said to me probably the fairest thing to do is to take your ribbon,” he said, noting that he then got emotional.

By the end of the night, the school decided to postpone the contest until Monday. In the meantime, parents of 4th and 5th graders will receive permission slips. The form will list all of the speech titles and let parents decide whether or not they want their children to hear Golob-Drake’s speech or any of the other speeches.

That’s a complicated way to handle an otherwise simple situation. Zachary isn’t trashing religion in the speech. He’s just saying that some people use it for evil and they shouldn’t do that. Even theists could get on board with him.

School District Spokeswoman Tanya Arja said school officials told her that the controversy wasn’t about the religious aspect.

“The concern was over the topic of mass murders,” Arja said. “Because these are 4th and 5th graders.”

That’s the concern? The kids who have probably played Grand Theft Auto and have seen an untold number of movies with violence in them can’t handle listening to a speech about world history because it’s too real? (Mind you, Zachary says in the speech that mass murder is wrong.) If you can’t talk honestly and openly about the motivations of conquerors, doesn’t that pretty much put a stop to all of the school’s history classes, too?

And why didn’t anyone bring this up when he won the award in his class?

You can read the speech for yourself below. See how offensive you find it:

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.

That’s one 5th grader who’s wise beyond his years.

Again: Administrators didn’t claim he was wrong or inaccurate, only that they didn’t want him mentioning mass murders… even though condemning them is integral to his piece.

The controversy wasn’t about religion, Arja said, yet it was the religion part of his speech that Zachary was told to remove.

Totally makes sense…

Well, here’s what I say to that:

Zachary’s being punished for doling out some harsh facts. He’s not insulting the followers of Christianity or Islam; rather, he’s admitting that most believers live moral, ethical lives because of their faith. There’s nothing offensive about this speech at all.

The school’s going overboard in an attempt to assuage over-sensitive parents. Administrators need to let Zachary compete with the current version of his essay. He worked hard on it, he didn’t say anything untrue, and his argument is a very important one. Even elementary school students understand the Golden Rule. There’s no reason they should be “protected” from the truth about history.

(Thanks to Brian for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Wildcard

    Why you just hate Mutants with eyebeams don’t you! I bet you supported Kelley didn’t you anti- mutitite!

  • Bruce Martin

    So a school in Florida says that you can’t say that there were mass murders in history. Should we be surprised that their school is apparently run by holocaust deniers? I don’t think that’s what Governor Charlie Crist would have done.

  • Anathema

    I’m sure that the assistant principle was more concerned with the topic of mass murder being talked about from one child to a bunch of children at a school. I’m sure a large majority of people wouldn’t want their children being involved in that without their consent.

    When I was in fifth grade, my teacher divided our class up into several small groups. Each group was given copies of a book on a different famous explorer to read. After we’d read the books, each group was supposed to give a presentation to the rest of the class on what they’d learned.

    I don’t remember what explorers the other groups got, but I remember the explorer that my group was assigned. It was Hernán Cortés. It is pretty much impossible to discuss Cortés and the conquest of Mexico without mentioning any instances of mass murder.

    Do you think that my fifth grade teacher was behaving inappropriately? Do you really think most people would object to my teacher having required kids to participate in these group reports without having the parents sign a permission slip first?

    To address the ignorant rant about violent video games and t.v. That was completely irrelevant; most 12 year old kids aren’t exposed to that stuff yet.

    For the most part, 12-year-olds are not playing video games which graphically depict the effects of violence. But even games that don’t depict violence in that manner frequently involve trying to kill enemies, so its not like the kids are completely ignorant and need to be shielded from the very idea of one human being killing another. I would be absolutely stunned if there was a single child at that school who had not come across depictions of violence more graphic than the ones mentioned in this 5th grader’s speech. After all, the speech doesn’t describe instances of violence so much as it just mentions the fact that they exist.

    Some have bad parents and are playing gta v and cussing online.

    So the only reason that a 12-year-old kid might have been exposed to violent video games, movies, and television is because they have bad parents? And you can judge the quality of a 12-year-old’s parents based on whether or not their child has used cuss words online? Really?

    Children are individuals. Different individuals mature at different rates. Some kids can handle depictions of violence better than others. When a parent allows their kid to play a violent video game or watch a violent t.v. show, it might be because they know their own child is mature enough to handle it.

    This was an attack on religion, that only occurred because the media reported it.

    Did you actually read the kid’s speech? It wasn’t an attack on religion at all. It was an attack on violence done in the name of religion. Surely you can tell the difference between the two?

    You people are blowing things out of proportion to enrage your viewers into disbelieving in the institution of religion. Religion is fundamentally a great thing, but bad people twist it into a perverse way to put down others; exactly like the writer of this article.

    An article about how school officials have forbidden a fifth grader from taking part in a speech contest because he wrote a speech that talks about how religions are twisted to justify violence in spite of the good moral guidelines they offer is itself an example of twisting religion in order to put down others? How does that work?

  • Artor

    “She said to me probably the fairest thing to do is to take your ribbon,”

    This line alone makes me despair for humanity.

  • Artor

    No doubt, the self-righteous ass. principal went to church over the weekend, and talked to children about the story of Noah, or Exodus. But it’s wrong to mention mass-murder to kids.

    Yes, I deliberately abbreviated “assistant.” I thought it was appropriate.

  • fed up

    This is a serious problem. as hard as one tries, one cannot separate church and state. This is another perfect example of why organized religion is dangerous. A vice principal, in what I believes a public school, is prohibiting free speech. I ask, how many more law suits have to be filed and how much more of the tax payers money has to be wasted on these arguments? Until public officials can separate their fantasy beliefs from the duties they are charged with performing, we will continue to see these unnecessary disputes. Again tell me why religion isn’t harmful?

  • http://127.0.0.1 3lemenope

    …he said, noting that he then got emotional.

    That’s the part that got me. Regardless of what a person believes, as an adult if you care enough about your beliefs to do something so insensitive to a ten-year-old (as self-possessed as this one) that it predictably makes them either rage out or cry, you are the asshole in the situation, full stop.

    I hate bullies.

  • Little_Magpie

    Helen Keller was pretty damn awesome. IMHO.

  • http://127.0.0.1 3lemenope

    Oh, I agree. Even though politically she occupied the opposite pole as I do generally speaking, she was bad-ass in the best sense of the term. I find it a terrible crime to white-wash the actually historically interesting parts of her life, reducing her merely to a saccharine inspirational “overcoming adversity” story.

  • http://disqus.com/cblargh00 CB

    What a fabulous young man!

    Yes, give him all the ribbons and a scholarship to the college of his choice.

  • Little_Magpie

    yeah, it’s like nothing else happened after she learned to communicate. (facepalm)

  • cr0sh

    Bravo for this young man! Hopefully he continues with his quest of knowledge, and eventually learns and understands why the “Golden Rule” isn’t such a great thing…

  • America Molon Labe Proctor

    If you’re that terrified of children hearing faith criticized… then how much faith do you really have in your faith? Could it be that hearing faith criticized sets off little alarm bells of doubt in your mind – alarm bells you as an adult have learned how to silence, because of your fear of where they might lead? Are you afraid that your children have not learned to silence them, and might actually be tempted to follow that ringing right out of the church? Maybe you’re afraid of what they’ll think of you when they turn and look back (if they even do), and see you standing inside under the artificial yellow glow of a plug-in, light-up Jesus.

  • unixman84

    What a world we live in. This kid strived to impress his teacher and his class mates let alone his family. He put in an ample amount of research, he used actual and factual information that is known and understood to be true and then focused all of that onto paper as asked to do so. This school needs to re-think it’s core values. School is a place where kids and young adults learn and don’t have to worry about doing so.

  • unixman84

    That my friend, is fucking amazing. Students reading this respect you even if you do not know it. No school should be allowed to call them selfs a school and be respected or accepted when history is allowed to be suppressed and distorted because somebody does not like it.

  • unixman84

    i can’t describe to you just how much i hated checking my mailbox and seeing that invitation. I was more than happy to decline the call that preceded it. “Yea… let me give you money to repress people who want something better than you can ever offer them.”

  • unixman84

    i know it seems that way, but looking back at fifth grade, i was very impressionable. I didn’t care about religion (and I don’t now unless it fucks with rights of citizens and forces its ugly head into my household).

    The truth is that this kid may be forced to step back and re-examine something that most adults cannot comprehend when he nailed it on the head the first try. Yea its true that for the most part no school is going to look back into this… i get that. But this will impact his will to give logical and factual information and his outlook on the results of doing so. It is huge because that is crucial to human interaction and development let alone if he becomes a teacher and needs to educate others.

  • Michael Powell

    Um — First Amendment anyone . . . ?

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    What?

  • Jeff Levy

    Awesome Speech Zachary Golob-Drake

  • TheScienceEnthusiast1130

    No.

    What is in the religious books is NOT what many people call great.

    Hating on sex?

    Hating on science?

    Violence?

    Ignorance?

    Greed for money?

    Extreme levels of hypocrisy?

    These points are what religious people practise.

    Lol

    Fail.

  • felixisaac1

    everone on this site should send the same message.

  • http://www.thinkyhead.com/ Thinkyhead

    Sad! When I was 16, admittedly a pretty parochial 16, I wrote an essay on prejudice and included patriotism in the list of types of prejudices. Fortunately I got good marks, but the teacher thought my use of “soluble” was improper, when it damn well wasn’t, grr!

  • Phil Hart

    So disturbed to see this happen in this day and age – I had a similar experience happen nearly 20 years ago when I was his age or a little older, except I wrote an essay for a local contest that was was chosen to represent my school. All of the winning essays were published in the local paper except for mine which the local paper refused to print it unless I changed some of the content. I used a series of racial slurs I had heard said on a daily within my school and community as the opening line to introduce to novel idea that years after the civil rights movement racial disparities and tensions were very much alive and must continued to be addressed and not swept under the rug. Needless to say my thoughts about how “free” we really are to speak our minds really took a blow that day my essay did not run. I could have changed the language, but not without lessening the impact of the message that was being delivered.
    I hope this young man uses this moment as an opportunity to stand for what he believes in and will be able to present his speech in its entirety and strictly with its original content. History is not pretty and there are some very uncomfortable truths we must face- if we are not careful the next uncomfortable truth will be the day our opportunity to be able to speak our mind and introduce novel (or not so novel) concepts was taken away for good.

  • skinnercitycyclist

    You don’t spend a lot of time around public schools, do you? The Peter Principle definitely applies to all principals

  • skinnercitycyclist

    But their career arc leads them to be principals eventually. In my view (as a SpEd case manager/Lang Arts/SocStud teacher), the people who become administrators are those who got into teaching because they did not know what else to do with their party-school English or history degrees, found out they did not like teaching but found themselves stuck in the profession, and decided on the path that would minimize contact with kids, i.e., administration.

  • skinnercitycyclist

    In theory, no, but in practice (at least in my district), they cultivate a pool of administrator candidates from the pool of teachers and pretty much select from that pool, unless of course they actively look for an “outside” candidate (usually for superintendent, but that is a separate case). I do not know any admins who were not teachers first, though most of the ones I know to have been teachers had been teachers only a few years before they went over to the Dark Side.

  • skinnercitycyclist

    “I’ve heard my mother talk about her techniques and she said she didn’t
    mind if students agreed or disagreed with opinions as long as they
    learned – facts, how to reason, how to express themselves and so on.”

    Speaking as a teacher, I cannot think of a better way to characterize my vocation. Cheers.

  • skinnercitycyclist

    I think “school administrator” covers all meanings explicit and implicit in “intellectually feeble fascist.”

  • The Starship Maxima

    What? Next you’re going to tell me being a mutant is not a choice?!
    :)))))

  • The Starship Maxima

    This is exactly why I find it difficult to discuss these things with certain people.
    The fact is Christ’s sacrifice makes this stringent observance of the law obsolete, and that’s said several times. Additionally, even in the OT, God demonstrated mercy many times.
    The fact of it is, unless I’m reading wrong, God gave orders to certain people. To me, he said love my neighbors and never judge them and mete out punishment.
    I follow those rules.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Once, some fundies were raging about how homosexuals can’t enter the kingdom of heaven. I pointed out that somewhere in Paul’s epistles, he points out that there a SLEW of people who won’t inherit the kingdom of heaven, including those who enslave others, which covers a whole lot more people than those who sleep with those of the same sex.

  • Althea Molette

    I think it’s quite absurd that this boy is being treated like this. I believe that if parents are going to let their children play war games on the PS3 ( which is clearly marked adult content), then I also beleive the kids can stand hearing a little truth. They need to let the boy continue on with his speach.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Hey Gus, I apologize for insinuating that it’s trivial to quote the Bible. I meant that it must be read in total, completely, from Genesis to Revelation.
    There are certain things that baffle me. There are things I can’t explain. But there is a clear divide between those who read the Bible and somehow get that slavery or not paying an atheist the same as a Christian is okay, and those get no such thing.
    In other words, most of the people who get justifications of slavery tend to be racist bullies. Most who don’t see that, are already pre-disposed to thinking their fellow man is their fellow man regardless of race, creed, sex, or whatever.
    Additionally, while God allowed the old Jews to keep slaves and avoid shellfish, Jesus taught that all men were your neighbor and that “what goes into a man is not as important as what flows out from his heart.”
    Clear statement, no interpretation.

  • The Starship Maxima

    As always, you make a lot of sense 3.
    For me, the translation stuff, I take that on faith. No, I have no way of proving the translations are consistent, but since nobody has produced a copy of the Bible with any significant changes, I assume it’s correct.
    As for the rest, well, there’s stuff I don’t get. Why did God need 6 days to create the universe? Why go through the OT and not skip straight to Jesus? I don’t know. There’s a lot I don’t know and take on faith.
    The stuff that applies to me, I follow because it seems to work.

  • Scarlet Letter J

    This is a great idea, and maybe one that the Friendly Atheist could make a suggestion in his post to spread the word.

  • http://www.subterror-radio.com/ DJ Shiva

    Smart kid. <3

  • cecilia

    I’m so glad to see you carrying on the great tradition of Teaching.

  • Spuddie

    Nobody who raises children in this country can say with a straight face that a 12 year old hasn’t been exposed to learning about mass killings in history.

    WWII and the Holocaust are introduced in history classes as early as 3rd or 4th grade. Religious classes (Sunday Schools…) teach this sort of stuff even earlier. There is always some history of sectarian violence which is being taught. Usually from the POV of those on the receiving end.

    Any American who hasn’t heard of 9/11, even if they weren’t born at the time, is living in a cave or was in a coma for the last 13 years.

    As for cussing, lets just say that the creators of South Park were dialing it back a bit for TV. Real 8-10 year olds are much worse than the ones seen on the show.

    The only excuse for such thinking is the poster is keeping his or her kids in a dungeon and keeping them from being exposed to the real world. At least 5 other posters so far got what I was saying.

  • http://127.0.0.1 3lemenope

    The stuff that applies to me, I follow because it seems to work.

    That I can respect. Incidentally, ever read any William James? You might dig him.

  • moose

    I’m not talking about avoiding shellfish and mixed fibers or stoning insolent teens. I’m talking about the fact that God ordered his followers to slaughter or rape countless innocents and, in many cases, actively helped out. That’s not an issue of “the law.” That’s an issue of how fundamentally warped the bible’s god is in terms of values and ethics.

    You say you can’t discuss this with “certain people.” Yup, you can’t discuss it with people who read the bible without blinders on and hear the fundamental message–that God hates most people and revels in their suffering. And BTW, are you actually saying that God gave only Jews those orders while he gave everyone else nice orders? Why did it take your God so long to change his mind? Please, look beyond the ridiculous laws and see God’s ethics. And since you seem to ignore the OT, tell me how eternal damnation fits in with a loving god.

  • Negative Hippie

    Such an embarrassing decision by the school. Like the author stated, death is not alien to fourth and fifth graders. What the school proposes is that children are better off learning about the gruesome side of life through entertainment rather than cold hard history.

  • Red-Star

    It isn’t. Dumb you

    “Yeah the Sentential are totally a good idea. Get rid of em all” That was literally Kelly’s campaign platform. You didn’t think THAT was wasteful spending with the recession going on? You complain about people spending their money wrong in this country look at what the government thought spending six Quadrillion dollars on was a good idea.

  • Wildcard

    Yes try defending the Sentinal program as great idea. I dare you.

  • MariaO

    Remember the old saying:
    Those who can, do. Those who cannot teach. Those who cannot teach administrate.

  • Rick Bagnall

    A-bloody-men! I wrote a report in third grade about California. Somewhere around 10 typewritten pages with illustrations, section headings, an index… My teacher “lost” it. My mom still suspects that she kept it to brag to her colleagues: “look at the sort of thing I can get out of a third grader!” To this day, I have a hard time putting all that much effort into writing papers…which turned out to be a very bad thing indeed when I tried to attend grad school.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Cussing is probably the best of my many many vices.

    And yes, I could’ve just called her dumb, but I felt her self-serving cowardice was worthy of greater insult.

    I think in a world where teachers encourage children to be cowards and not tackle hard truths, my profanity is pretty much a non-issue.

  • Alice

    Reading *is* interpreting, including “plain reading.” How we interpret words is based on our knowledge and the experiences we have had. Furthermore, Bible translations are already interpretations because the translators decided which manuscripts they thought were more accurate and how to translate the words. 100% precise, unbiased translations are impossible.

    ETA: what 3lemenope said, I just saw his comment further down.

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)

    Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them. (1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT)

    How is that not endorsement of slavery? I didn’t even bother with all the OT verses that clearly say slavery is just fine and gives rules on how to treat them, as well as the whole enslaving the entire tribe of Gideonites and also the sex slavery of captured women, which God commanded to happen.

  • Karen Milton

    By Grade 5 my son had already taken sex ed and had done a school project on the Holocaust. I keep an open door parenting philosophy and no questions are off limits. We’ve had long discussions about feminism, slavery, abortion, LGBT rights, gender bias, theism and millions of other things over the past few years (he’s 13). The result is a child who will speak out about people’s rights no matter what his friends think. We also swear like sailors at home, but he wasn’t permitted to do so until he was old enough to understand that those are home words, not words one should say to their teacher or their grandmothers. I don’t think you’re giving kids enough credit.

  • Edward

    This is Quite the easy fix.

    Have the child record speech and put some somber or driving music behind it.

    Post that shit online. Let it go Viral

  • LynnH

    This is a truly nasty meme that impugns all the superb teachers who dedicate their lives to educating our children (and often their ignorant parents).


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