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Priests and secularists clash over schoolchildren

The Russian society is still divided over whether religious studies should be introduced as a required course in schools. The story of 30 people from a doomsday cult, who are threatening to kill themselves in an underground bunker in Russia's Penza region

This story has been in the headlines for several days. More than 30 people including children barricaded themselves underground in Penza region. All of them are members of a doomsday cult. 

“This is an obvious example, what can happen in the country and in the society, if the society is rid of religious education,” says Kirill, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union religion was introduced in many Russian schools.

Official statistics show 85 per cent of Russians are Christian orthodox, still there are fears such education violates constitutional rights.

Still it's not only about Orthodoxy, but religious education in general.

A year ago a 15-year-old girl from Saint Petersburg brought a law suit against the teaching of evolution theory. Masha Shraiberg demanded that the school also teach creationism along with Darwin's ideas. She lost the case, but it prompted much debate.

Several Russian scientists wrote a letter to the Russian President where they shared their concerns about the growing role of the church in education.

“We do not want to hurt anyone but it has to be separated,” stresses professor Andrey Vorobjev.

Meanwhile, Russia’s clergy says the absence of religious education leads to the spread of immorality.

And for the first the Russian President has made his position known. The news came during his speech dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the restoration of the patriarchy in Russia. 

“Various forms of teaching religion are needed in the school system. This refers not only to the study of one religion. In municipal schools now, there is a practice of teaching the fundamentals of confessional cultures – Orthodox, Muslim and others. I believe all these forms have a right to exist. However, the study of religious subjects must be voluntary,” Vladimir Putin noted.

Nevertheless these words might not put an end to the debate.