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A Fifth Grader’s Essay on Religious Violence Gets Censored

A Fifth Grader’s Essay on Religious Violence Gets Censored

A fifth grader from Florida recently won an essay contest with a piece about religious violence. He’s now making headlines after revealing he was stripped of the award because a school official didn’t think the essay’s religious violence theme was appropriate.

Zachary Golob-Drake, who attends the Patel Partnership School in Tampa, recently won first place in his class after delivering a speech about the history of religion being used to justify murder, as well as what Golob-Drake thought people should be taking from religion, such as the Golden Rule.

You can read the full text of Golob-Drake’s great speech here, but a brief excerpt can give you the themes and the mature way Zachary was approaching this topic:

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.


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.

Golob-Drake was proud to have won the blue ribbon award for his work and prepared to deliver his essay the full classes of fourth and fifth graders the next day. He hoped to be one of the two essayists selected to represent the school at the regional 4-H Tropicana Public Speech contest.

Before he could read his essay to the class, however, he was approached by the assistant principal at the school, Candice Dodd, and told that she had concerns regarding the content of the essay. Golob-Drake is quoted recounting the exchange:

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

He told her that he would need time to think about it, at which point she took the ribbon back. This, understandably, upset him.

According to reports, Golob-Drake was later allowed to keep the ribbon after his brother spoke to the school’s administration. His mother is also said to have called the school and spent a great deal of time trying to straighten out what had happened. The contest was then postponed while the situation could be resolved.

The school’s District Spokeswoman Tanya Arka has since issued a comment saying it wasn’t in fact the religious aspect of the essay that was being questioned but that the essay referred to mass murders. This, Arka said, was a topic that was thought to be “too deep” for fourth and fifth graders.

This version of events doesn’t seem to tally with Golob-Drake’s own version. It also doesn’t account for the fact that the school, in sending permission slips home so that parents could opt their kids out of listening to any of the essays, changed the description of Golob-Drake’s essay from its title “In the Name of Religion” to “Religious Beliefs Regarding Death,” something which is highly misleading. We also note that as Golob-Drake is himself a fifth grader, citing concerns that the topic is inappropriate or too complicated for his age group seems a little dubious, if not patronizing.

Regardless, the question here really is whether the school’s vice principal attempted to censor Golob-Drake over his perceived slight at religion, or whether this was simply a case of a school administration being rather too sensitive over the essay’s content. It appears to be the latter.

The matter is further complicated by the fact that Golob-Drake’s story quickly went viral on the basis of just a handful of reports. Interestingly here, a number of religious publications even decided to back Golob-Drake’s essay and its emphasis on the so-called Golden Rule. The Christian Post, for instance, takes a tone of sympathy in its reporting of Golob-Drake’s story, drawing attention to the wealth of support Golob-Drake found on Facebook and other social media.

It is perhaps this consensus that Golob-Drake was slighted that eventually led to this story having a happy ending. On Monday, Golob-Drake was allowed to read his essay to fourth and fifth graders and has now been chosen to represent fifth graders at the regional contest.

“I’m so happy and excited,” he is quoted as saying.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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4:36PM PST on Feb 23, 2014

wow, what a smart kid. He already sees religion as the poison it is. There is hope for the future :)

1:40PM PST on Jan 18, 2014

Steve, do you actually study history or just pick what seems right, if you would have studied the crusades the nobles at that time had to many male children so they got the church at that time to send them off so as to not cause them problems when the oldest male heir took over, there was nothing religious about it

6:07AM PST on Dec 26, 2013


3:51AM PST on Dec 25, 2013

well said, Suba

6:03PM PST on Dec 24, 2013

James. Yes, up in Ohio. In 8th grade to public school.

I agree that there was the dumbing down to fit in with the jock/cheerleader illiterate, but the instructors didn’t force that on me/us. I had some unusual teachers.

I remember being rather embarrassed when an instructor in 12th grade Civics or History class (public school) basically had to resort to assigning students to read from the text book out loud during class. What was astounding was that I noted that most of my fellow students couldn’t read or pronounce many words very well at all.

Catholic school had taught me phonics (which I have learned has been removed from elementary school curriculums since then) which gave me the advantage in being able to figure out how to pronounce a word even if I hadn’t come across it before. Apparently, my schoolmates lacked this ability.

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