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Russian pupils to get choice of religion, ethics classes

By Mansur Mirovalev
Associated Press / July 22, 2009

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BARVIKHA, Russia - President Dmitry Medvedev announced a pilot project yesterday that will require schoolchildren to take classes in religion or secular ethics.

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

Medvedev said preteen 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 secular ethics.

Students and their parents must be allowed to choose freely, Medvedev said in addressing top clerics and officials at his residence outside Moscow.

By 2012, the classes might be expanded nationwide, Medvedev said.

The offer of a choice appeared aimed to ease concerns that Russian Orthodoxy will be forced on schoolchildren as the church gains influence and tightens ties with the state.

Church and state are officially separate under the post-Soviet constitution, but Orthodox leaders seek a more muscular role for the church, which has served the state for much of its 1,000-year history.