Russia's plan to introduce religion in schools lauded

Published 23 July 2009  |  
Head of Russian Orthodox Church has praised Russian President's announcement on the proposal of introducing religious subjects in schools across Russia.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has announced a pilot project Tuesday that will require schoolchildren to take classes in religion or secular ethics, the Associated Press reported.

Medvedev said pre-teen students at about 12,000 schools in 18 Russian regions would take the classes. They will be offered the choice of studying the dominant Russian Orthodox religion, Islam, Buddhism or Judaism, or of taking an overview of all four faiths, or a course in secular ethics.

The proposal is believed to be part of a Kremlin effort to teach young Russians morals in the wake of a turbulent period of uncertainty following the collapse of the officially atheist Soviet Union.

Patriarch Kirill, leader of 100 million Orthodox Christians in Russia has praised the proposal and said, "All the concerns society has expressed will be addressed by this freedom of choice," reported Reuters.

Russian Orthodox Church has been pushing the idea of introducing religious education in schools though church and state are officially separate under the post-Soviet constitution.

Three years ago some regions have taken the initiative on their own and required courses in Russian Orthodoxy, stirring protests that they were infringing on constitutional boundaries.

Brushing aside the concerns of some non-religious peoples who fear that it is a way of imposing Orthodox Church ideology, Medvedev said, "Students and their parents must be allowed to choose freely," while addressing top clerics and officials at his residence outside Moscow.

"Any coercion, pressure will be absolutely unacceptable and counterproductive," he said.

The President also insisted that the proposal is "only" the four faiths excluding other faiths, especially Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, which the Orthodox Church accuses of proselytising.

Medvedev said the national program would begin next year as a pilot project in 18 regions, covering about 20 percent of Russia's schools.

Over 80 percent Russians are believed to be members of the Russian Orthodox Church, however according to CIA world fact book said only about 15 to 20 percent as practicing Orthodox Christians. And minorities Christians like Roman Catholics and Protestants have often complained of not being able to practice their faith freely.

Earlier this year, the appointment of Aleksandr Dvorkin as chair of Expert Council on Religious Studies raised concern for non-Orthodox Christians, fearing that Russia might return to a "Soviet era" persecution of Christians.

Dvorkin, who is critical of non-Orthodox Christians was given "unprecedented powers" by the Ministry of Justice, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

The move prompted USCIRF to add Russia to its watch list for the first time despite having monitored the country's religious freedom for ten years.

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