Schoolboy stripped of top speech prize because it referred ‘inappropriately’ to religious violence

ZACHARY Golob-Drake, a 5th-grader at the Patel Partnership School in Tampa, Florida, won first place in his class for his speech about the history of people using religion to justify murder.


Zachary Golob-Drake

He opened his speech with this statement:

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.

He included a brief paragraph on the Crusades, Genghis Khan and the terrorist attacks of September 11, and ended the speech by encouraging the “Golden Rule”, saying that would “make the world a better place”.

But, according to this report, the blue ribbon prize awarded to him was taken away this week after the assistant principal pulled him aside before school was dismissed and told him his speech was “inappropriate”.

Golob-Drake was supposed to deliver the speech yesterday to all the school’s 4th and 5th graders. Two winners –one from each grade – were to be chosen to represent the school at the regional 4-H Tropicana Public Speech contest.

The youngster said:

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.

He responded by saying he would needed to think about it at home.

She said to me probably the fairest thing to do is to take your ribbon.

By the time his older brother picked him from school, Zachary was in tears. His brother ended up going back to school to have a word with the assistant principal.

Their mother, Rhonda Golob-Drake, said the assistant principal capitulated and gave back the ribbon. She then spent four hours on the phone with school officials and school district officials and called representatives from the Tropicana contest.

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.

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, because these are 4th and 5th graders.

47 responses to “Schoolboy stripped of top speech prize because it referred ‘inappropriately’ to religious violence”

  1. charlie says:

    Ms. Arja, I call your statement bullshit! Mass murder has been caused many, many times BY religion. To exclude mass murder from any real discussion about organized religion is to ignore the total truth about organized religion. The entire truth needs to be known and in my view 4th and 5th graders ARE old enough to hear this. What they do not need is all the gory details of said mass murder, in short, no need to describe in detail how those killings are/were done.
    Of course organized religion will object, they do not like having their very dirty laundry exposed to public light.

  2. Paul Preiswerck says:

    Dear Ms. Arja:

    I’m sorry if the truth hurts.

    Paul Preiswerck

  3. Stephen Mynett says:

    I can understand the school’s worries, it will do them no good with the religious community if they continue to produce students who are able to think.

  4. Barry Duke says:

    Charlie, you are so right about how desperate and panic-stricken religious folk become when their fantasies are shown to cause untold suffering. Coincidentally, earlier today I was writing a feature article for the print edition of the Freethinker about a young atheist called Brendan Powell Smith – known to his friends as “the reverend Smith” – who has gained international recognition for his clever use of Lego bricks in relating Bible stories.

    During my research I discovered an article written by a Catholic in which she laments the fact that he has chosen to illustrate his two Brick Testament volumes with scenes of sex, violence and depravity, particularly as they are aimed at children.

    Kathy Schiffer patronisingly concluded: “Oddly, I found myself feeling not wrath, but sadness for ‘Reverend’ Smith. A young (30-something) man with a great amount of talent, he rejects God even while immersing himself in the Bible. I pray that God, who is all-knowing and who loves Brendan Powell Smith with an unquenchable love, might bring into Smith’s life someone who can help him to see the deeper meaning behind those stern Old Testament stories, the divine inspiration in the Bible he now mocks.”

  5. joyce says:

    The first thing that is taught in religion is that Jesus was nailed to a cross and left to die… violence there!! They should try reading from the Old Testament…talk about violence.

  6. Broga says:

    Censorship (which this is) and superstitious fantasy are essential tools which religion must use. Candour, fact and truth erodes the faith.

    The irony is that if the speech had gone ahead it would have passed, some of the audience may have thought about what they heard and there would have no widespread publicity. Now, yet again, the shit has hit the fan.

  7. 1859 says:

    The more talk, the more thought. I hope Zachary’s speech is heard far and wide. Well done kid!

  8. Robster says:

    “Zzzzzzz…” that’s the re-written speech with the violence and religion removed. What’s the point?

  9. Daniel Stowens says:

    Commenting here at the Freethinker isn’t going to accomplish much, I’m thinking. Maybe we can send notes to his school congratulating him on a very good speech whatever grade hears it, castigating the school for teaching their students it’s OK to censor speech because it makes somebody uncomfortable, and suggesting to the vice-principal that she seriously think about a different line of work because she clearly does not want students to think or learn.

  10. Luke says:

    Shielding children (or an ignorant people, for that matter) from the truth about the dangers and violence that come along with much organized religion does nothing, but stymy the world with uninformed fools. Everyone has a right to know the truth about religions, and no one has a right to censor it. The speech also did not promote, or defame any religion, so what’s the problem? It was simply informative.

  11. charlie says:

    As if there is no sex, violence, etc. in the holly buy-bull. Yeah, and by the way, tell that lady I hear there is a bridge that may be for sale, cheap.
    P.S. the Lego brick tasty mints are well done.

  12. Jim Wooden says:

    This is about the organized legal effort to redefine the first amendment to recognize a protection for religious thought and belief from criticism in the public space. More to come, are you ready?

  13. 1859 says:

    I think it is really ‘telling’ that a 5th grader (11 or 12 year old ?) can clearly ‘see’ the connection between religion and violence, yet adults who have immersed themselves in one particular religious doctrine or other, just can’t. Instead the adults prevaricate, lie, twist the truth, confuse – they will do anything rather than admit they swallowed wholesale a lie.

  14. Caute says:

    Can we get a copy of this smart young man’s speech and post it on this site?

  15. Broga says:

    One of the most striking aspects of this admirable young man’s treatment is the nauseating pettiness of it. The believers are so smug, wrapped up in themselves and their superstitions and ready to claim moral values that we all should follow. Then this. Look at it; consider it; and then draw the obvious conclusion.

    Great idea to contact the school or to congratulate the pupil. Any email addresses available?

  16. Har Davids says:

    In stead of his original speech Zachary might consider reading some gruesome passages from the ‘good’ book, the ones that involve mass-murder, infanticide and other stuff Christians often look to sweep under the carpet. That book being the ultimate in universal truths, no assistant principal of religious persuasion could consider this an inappropriate act.

  17. tony e says:

    Out of curiosity, I’d like to know if the assistant principal who took his ribbon followed any particular religion herself.

    If she does I’d wager that her actions were not done because she felt that the speech was ‘inappropriate’ but to protect whatever branch of insanity she belongs to.

  18. stfual says:

    Ms Arja. Do you ever allow the children under your care to be exposed to the fact that there is no god. They will be constantly indoctrinated by the government, the media and your own education system. Allow them to be exposed to reality occasionally.

  19. john smith says:

    This idiot should be sacked. Clearly not suitable for being a teacher. A teacher should be providing education and encouraging intelligent thinking. She should not be suppressing free speech and holding back intelligence just because it doesn’t fit with her ancient tribal backwards superstition. This woman is reversing evolution

  20. ssauhard says:

    if someone questions about the system, this system has a system of crushing thoe peoples.

  21. Marcus says:

    If the children are old enough to be taught about all the killing IN THE BIBLE then they can be taught about the killing in its name.

  22. Stonyground says:

    The thing about the lego Bible is that it is an honest and straightforward presentation of the stories. Kathy Schiffer has a problem with this and tries to pretend that there is a deeper meaning in the violent and sexually explicit stories. There is no deeper meaning Kathy, just a very old book written by ignorant and primitive people.

  23. DeadPanDoubter says:

    “Oh, it’s not about the religious aspects, it’s about the mass murder aspects…” So you pretend that 9/11 never happened? That the Holocaust never happened? That the Crusades and Genghis Khan never happened?

    Newsflash: this is all shit he learns in his History courses. So are we going to fire the History teachers for terrorising small children (I think 11-12 year olds are tougher than we give them credit for, but I digress)?

  24. Aleister says:

    Employed at this school or even the school district are a bunch of weak willed weak minded DISHONEST cowards

  25. charlie says:

    This is way O/T, but I noticed the “Independent” today has an article stating that you CAN be jailed for even “imagining” the overthrow of the monarch in the UK.
    Link: (hope this works)
    Rats, it doesn’t look like the link is “clickable”. Sorry, but I’d bet most in the UK may have read this already.
    How would the “gummint” know what you may be “imagining” unless you make a statement to somebody? Are they now able to read your minds/thoughts/imaginings?
    Sorry for not doing the link better, not so good at posting links. Stupid old me, with apologies to all for my error.

  26. trse says:

    They should have just went all the way to admission…..Religion is not appropriate for children under 18.

  27. trse says:


    that is significant to a point…imagination would include the authoring of books or movies which are plotted around the overthrow of [the british] government…that being said; the Queen has very little or nothing at all to do with british government.

  28. Matt+Westwood says:

    “If any person whatsoever shall, within the United Kingdom or without, compass, imagine, invent, devise, or intend to deprive or depose our Most Gracious Lady the Queen, from the style, honour, or royal name of the imperial crown of the United Kingdom, … shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable … to be transported beyond the seas for the term of his or her natural life.”

    Oh no! Don’t send me to live in Uruguay! I couldn’t stand the liberality!

  29. Leslie says:

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

    …and that s why she told him he’d best rewrite the speech to take the religion element out of it. Riiiiiiight.

  30. Janet says:

    I love the fact the older brother went in to have a talk with the asst principal-then she caved…lol I wonder how old the older brother is and what he said to her…lol

  31. Janet says:

    Full text of Zachary’s speech
    Posted: Dec 12, 2013 3:05 PM CST Updated: Dec 12, 2013 4:50 PM CST
    By web staff
    TAMPA, FL – (WRITTEN BY: Zachary Golob-Drake)

    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.

  32. Matt+Westwood says:

    What on earth is there to complain about any of that speech? It’s exactly the sort of thing you would expect any 12-year-old to write in a school essay. It’s factually accurate (as far as the official propaganda goes) and it’s morally upright, and it doesn’t even diss religion.

  33. tony e says:

    Charlie ‘I noticed the “Independent” today has an article stating that you CAN be jailed for even “imagining” the overthrow of the monarch in the UK.’ So much for democracy.

    Brogs – looks like you are fucked!! lol.

  34. Broga says:

    @tony e: Definitely. It’s the Tower for me.

  35. Broga says:

    There is no limit to the ingenuity of “people of faith” blocking statements of fact which expose their beliefs. This young man has been the victim of nasty, obvious censorship. The RCs in Australia, I heard on the radio, have a more subtle ploy at present. There are hundreds of people there who have been abused, while children, by paedophile priests. They want to sue for damages.

    The RC Church is offering, and continuing to offer, “counselling.” The idea being that the victim is channelled into an endless round of “counselling” on the assumption that while being counselled and supported by the RC Church no action will be taken to sue for damages.

    The RC priesthood, in its general character, is cynical, pitiless and determined to avoid accountability for the thousands of lives that it has damaged. Meanwhile, in an attempt to deflect criticism Frankie plays the kindly and well intentioned buffoon.

  36. Qizilbash says:

    So far as I know, the Mongols as conquerers never promoted one religion or belief system over another. Once they conquered a territory, they allowed subjects to believe (or not) as they wished so long as the status quo was maintained. Additionally, I’ve never encountered a single instance in my studies where religion was used by Genghis Khan to kill others. If someone has a citation to pass along, I’m all ears.

    Second, critical thinking and research skills are essential at all levels of any educational process. Obviously, these basics are woefully lacking in most U.S. schools; however, proper spelling and grammar are crucial as well. For instance, “Stymy” is not a word but, “stymie” is. C’mon, people!

  37. Stephen Mynett says:

    @Qizilbash, unfortunately English is a mongrel language with many variations of spellings and usages, often depending on the country it is used on or regional variations.

    I much prefer stymie but stymy is also an acceptable spelling.

  38. sarachaya says:

    HHard to swallow that religion is NOT about Peace and Love and Hugs? well, the truth, as this intelligent young man was able to articulate is that religion often is about coercion, war, torture, mayhem. And it really doesn’t matter which religion one looks at. IF there is control by any religion faction, peace and love leave.

    What is hard to swallow for me, is that a public school (altho I believe this is a charter school) in Hillsborough County, with all the diversity in that huge county, has administrative staff that very myopic.

  39. Stan Woodard says:

    Please tell us ow we can all read and distribute Zachary Golob-Drake’s speech. It would be great to see his work reach far beyond the intended audience.

  40. Tiffers says:

    If a 5th grader can see it, and these adults can’t maybe they shouldnt be teaching anymore…

  41. Stan Woodard says:

    Awesome… I just found the speech in the comments above, thanks to Janet and especially to Zachary!

  42. Rhonda Golob-Drake says:

    I am Zachary’s mother. Thank you to all of those of you who have supported our family through this. I appreciate so much that Zach has become the subject of so much conversation. My heart aches for any child who puts that much work into something, is selected as examplary, and then has his prize stolen from someone uncomfortable with the content. I typed that speech from his handwritten copy off of notebook paper for him, and I saw absolutely nothing controversial. It is full of factual information (at the 5th-grade level, of course), information which could be found in textbooks or historical internet websites. The only opinion is the end when Zach suggests that we all treat each other as we want to be treated to “make the world a better place.” There aren’t a lot of people who would argue against that.

    Just an update on his story–he was allowed to compete yesterday at the school level, and he received a First Place medal for his speech and presentation. He will go on to reprsent the 5th graders at his school at the district level. There is a follow-up story on Channel 8 Tampa.

    For the person who asked, the older brother who picked Zachary up is 24. It took 45 minutes of arguing to get the blue ribbon back. When she gave it back, it was still with the understanding that Zachary could keep the ribbon, but that he would not be allowed to present the speech. It took four hours of phone calls to get them to allow him to present the speech. The school sent home permission slips with the subjects of the speeches, and they labeled Zachary’s subject as “Religious Beliefs About Death,” giving parents the opportunity to have their children pulled out of any of the speeches. Four of the 52 students present left during Zach’s speech. Labeling his speech as “Religious Beliefs About Death” was totally off the mark.

    Zach wants to go into journalism as an adult, and he writes just for fun, even when it’s not a school assignment. He reads constantly and is extremely insightful about many things. I have always joked with people that Zachary is a 30-year-old trapped in a little, short body. His vocabulary is incredible. He uses words that keep me cracked up all the time. When I asked him if he regretted my calling the media, he responded, “No way. You’re just protecting my Constiutional rights.” Funny, huh?

    When we toured his school 1.5 years ago (Zach was 8), he walked with the principal and engaged him in conversatin that included questions about the school curriculum. I stepped back and walked about 10 feet behind Zach and the principal, wondering if Zachary would notice if I dropped out of the tour. He was succesfully managing his own affairs.

    Anyway, you can see the video of him walking out of the school (jumping out of the school) after receiving his First Place ribbon and medal if you find the follow-up story. For us, we were just happy that he was objectively judged. Sadly, however, his school is on modified lockdown for the week, and law enforcement is parked on the premises because so many people have made threatening online remarks and so many people have called the school. Most are Zachary supporters, but others have criticized Zachary. Some have accused me of using my son to “push an agenda.” I guess I am pushing an agenda–making sure that my 10-year-old son isn’t stifled by a school district or its representatives because they are uncomfortable with what he has to say.

    I dont’ necessarily agree with speeches of the other children, but that doesn’t mean we walk away. As a family, we listen, discuss things, and then accept that people disagree–and that’s ok. Opening the mind long enough to listen to others is how learning takes place.

    Rhonda Golob-Drake

  43. Ginny says:

    At what point is it okay to tell someone that genuine faith can be perverted if it turns to violence to perpetuate itself? It seems to me that the earlier we learn not to twist religion to countenance murder, the better. Some of the most dedicated jihadists/crusaders of whatever stripe are young zealots, convinced early that saving the world involves destroying a good number of “infidels.” Shouldn’t we strive to reach them first?

  44. […] LAST week international outrage was generated after it was revealed Zachary Golob-Drake, a 5th grader at the Patel Partnership School in Tampa was… […]

  45. A.T. Hess says:

    “Thou shalt return that prize or I shall smite thee!”