Russia Makes Religious Education Mandatory in Schools

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a new bill into law that makes religious education mandatory for all schools in the country.

The legislation concerns a course on the fundamentals of religion that will be taught at all schools, The Moscow Times reported, although it did not specify which religions will be discussed in classrooms. The law also makes a number of long-awaited changes for Russia's teachers, such as stipulating a minimum salary that is directly related to the economy of the region in which they work. Educators who have to travel to rural areas as part of their job will also be entitled to compensation for their expenses.

The law which includes the clause on religious education was approved by the Federation Council on Dec. 26, and will go into effect on Sept. 1, 2013.

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Putin, an Orthodox Christian, has enjoyed a good relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church, the dominant religion in the country, and its head bishop Kirill I of Moscow. The bishop has often served as adviser to the president, although that has also sparked some dissatisfaction among Russians who insist that church and state should remain separate.

In Feb. 2012, while still prime minister, Putin pledged that he would defend Christianity around the world, especially among those facing persecution and the threat of civil war, such as believers in Syria.

Putin has faced scrutiny however, for his decision last week to sign into law a prohibition against U.S. parents adopting orphaned children from Russia. The provision is part of a larger bill that the government is implementing in response to the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. bill signed by President Barack Obama in December that places travel and financial restrictions on human rights abusers in Russia.

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