5th-Grader’s Award Taken Away For Controversial Religion Speech

| by Allison Geller

A 5th-grader had his blue ribbon stripped for a speech he gave about the use of religion to justify violence because the school’s administration decided that the topic was inappropriate.

“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 speech begins.

Zachary goes on to cite how many people in the world follow Eastern religions, Islam, and Christianity, and to detail how, historically, those religions were used to justify warfare and mass murder. He uses the examples of the Crusades, Genghis Kahn’s bloody conquests, and the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

“More than 2,500 years ago, Confucius offered guidance through the Golden Rule when he said, ‘Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.’” Zachary says at the end of his speech.

“This world would be a better place if everybody followed that rule.”

Zachary’s teacher was impressed with his oratory and chose him to deliver his speech in front of the entire 4th and 5th grade classes at Patel Partnership School in Tampa, WFLA reported. One winner from each grade would then be selected to represent the school at the regional public speech contest.

The school’s assistant principal, however, did not consider the material of Zachary’s talk age-appropriate. She pulled Zachary aside before the end of the day on Wednesday to tell that he needed to change the main content of his speech if he wanted to participate.

"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 said he would have to think about it.

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

Zachary was crying by the time his older brother picked him up that day. Luckily, Zachary’s family stuck up for him. His brother talked to the assistant principal and then their mother, Rhonda Golob-Drake, spent four hours on the phone that night sorting things out with school and school district officials, as well as representatives from the regional speech contest.

In the end, a compromise was agreed upon: the contest will be postponed until Monday, so all the students can return permission slips listing all the speech topics and parents can choose to opt their children out of the event.

According to School District Spokeswoman Tanya Arja, “the concern was over the topic of mass murders," since the students are elementary-school age.  

Sources: WFLA, Wikipedia,