Author`s name Michael Simpson

Will God's Law to be Introduced at Schools?

The central mass media have made haste to publish the sensation
Last week the RF Education Ministry issued an order #2833 "On the opportunity given to religious organizations by state-run and municipal educational institutions to give children extra-curriculum religion lessons". According to the document, schools have the right to provide officially registered religious organizations working on the Russian Federation territory for at least 15 years with free lecture-rooms for optional religion lessons to children wishing to attend such lessons.   

This truly revolutionary order immediately gave rise to protests of law enforcement organizations. At the same time, representatives of Russia's traditional religions, Orthodoxy and Islam, were obviously satisfied with the document issued by the Education Ministry. However as it turned out later, both the supporters and the opponents of the order demonstrated their attitudes to the document in vain. In fact, the new order turned out to be not that new.

It was already four years ago that the RF Education Ministry circulated a document of recommendation of June 4, 1999 "On the opportunity given to religious organizations to give extra-curriculum religion lessons to schoolchildren that are to be taught in state-run and municipal educational institutions". As is seen from the letter and the order, they look very much alike. The matter of the fact is that religious circles treat this very letter circulated four years ago as an obstacle to organization of religious education in secular educational institutions. Why do they say so? To understand this opinion we should have a look at paragraphs of this letter of recommendation.

The document states: "The program of religious lessons must agree with the state and local construction regulations, the sanitary norms, the regulations on health care of pupils and workers of educational institutions. The lessons must agree with the equipment of educational institutions and educational process; this is obligatory to observe the educational qualification of people engaged for religion lessons at schools."
If we supply the requirements with the condition of accident prevention at lessons, including the pressing necessity of fire prevention, plus other requirements made to educational institutions for under-ages, this will mean that thus religious organizations wishing to teach religion at school must get licenses for their activity. Unfortunately, this is quite a hard procedure to get a license here in Russia.  

Another quotation from the document: "The administration of an educational institution must coordinate decisions it makes with respect to religion lessons with the charter of the educational institution and with the self-government body (the council, the tutorial council, etc)." In other words, is someone from the above mentioned authorities doesn't like the idea of religious education at school, there will be no religion lessons.

According to one more paragraph of the letter, literature and other study aids, including audio and video, used at religion lessons must bear the marking with the official complete name of a religious organization giving the lessons. Thus, if an Orthodox parish wishes to give religion lessons to pupils in a nearby school, they will have to demonstrate textbooks and study aids issued by the organization and offered for studies at school. But nowadays here in Russia there is hardly a parish that issues "literature and study aids, including audio and video" of its own.

If we look at the document closer we see a number of pitfalls which is allegedly issued to authorize religion lessons at schools. In fact, the pitfalls made by ardent opponents of religious education turned out to be effective. At the end, the document of recommendation of 1999 says: "Please inform the Education Ministry about the usage of the above mentioned recommendations before August 1, 2000." This is quite obvious that not a single report on the recommendations usage have been sent to the ministry yet.

Some time ago a new order has been issued; it looks very much like the previously circulated document. Journalists of central mass media presented the order as a sensation; however this attempt to produce a sensation made people aware of the issue just smile skeptically. This is true that statements about the possibility of religious lessons in secular education institutions are a considerable achievement for a country that used to be atheistic not long ago. What is more, some regions of Russia still observe the local law not to let clergymen to schools. Nowadays, if all the parties involved wish to give religion lessons to schoolchildren, there is a chance to carry the idea out. 

But is it necessary to teach God's Law at schools even if some children and parents wish to have such lessons and the school administration supports the desire? This may sound strange but many of the wise clergymen treat the idea of religion lessons at schools rather skeptically.

The reason of the skepticism is quite clear: it makes no sense to teach God's Law to somebody outside the divine service. For children to understand God's Law correctly they must have adequate environment in the family and at school as well. This is highly impossible to understand religion in an educational institution which is under the Russian everyday conditions not secular but merely atheistic. As for those children who actually evince interest in religion, they attend Sunday schools organized by religious organizations of every faith represented in Russia. The clergymen in their turn say it is important to study the culture of the country where children live. In the framework of culture studies Russian children will learn a lot about religion as far as Russia's culture is closely connected with religion.

This is perfectly evident even for the most ardent activists that children must study the Russian culture. Some analysts say that the order is just another problem connected with the optional course "The fundamentals of the Orthodox culture" recommended by the RF Education Ministry last year. If administrations of educational institutions switch from this optional course to God's Law lessons, they may finally give up the idea of "The fundamentals of the Orthodox culture" lessons.

All attempts to introduce optional lessons of the fundamentals of the Orthodox culture at schools gave rise to unbelievably strong protests. In some cases it even came to lawsuits. The lawsuits and the protests were a success in some regions of Russia: there are just few schools that have optional lessons of the fundamentals of the Orthodox culture.

Yana Prozorova