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By William Wan
As the battle over separation of church and state rages on in this country, consider this small but fascinating news item from Russia yesterday.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced a pilot program that will require students to take classes in religion or secular ethics. The project is part of Russia’s plan to teach morals after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The move is the latest development in a gradual evolution of religion in that region, which has a drastically different history and dimension as far as government/religion politics. Under the Soviet Union, of course, the government promoted atheism because of the influence of Marxist theory. Part of the opposition to organized religion was used to break the powerful Russian Orthodox Church.
Schoolchildren at about 12,000 schools nationwide will be offered classes on the still-dominant Russian Orthodox religion, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, an overview of faiths or secular ethics. Full AP story here. In a different article, Medvedev is quoted on why he chose to institute the classes:
Medvedev said at a meeting on Tuesday that he had received letters from the leaders of Russia’s main religions, proposing that subjects aimed at the younger generation’s spiritual and moral upbringing be introduced at general schools, and priests attached to the army and navy.
“I have made up my mind to support both ideas – the idea of introducing a basic course of religious culture and secular ethics at schools. I also think it worthwhile to assign priests representing Russia’s traditional faiths to the armed forces on a permanent basis,” Medvedev said.”I am ready to support both decisions,” the president said.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s religious political forces have been in flux. AP notes worries among some that Russian Orthodoxy will be forced on schoolchildren as the church regains influence. This