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Moonie textbook banned

The local authorities in Yekaterinburg in the Urals have banned a textbook published by the Unification Church. Some 80 schools in the city and surrounding area had been using the Moonies' book in optional classes.

Although the activities of non-traditional faiths have for some time been causing concern to Russian educationists, this is apparently the first time that a ban of this kind has been imposed.

According to Russian law, state schooling is separate from the Church and sectarian religious instruction is forbidden.

However, since the late 1980s, religion has returned to the syllabus in courses on art history and general culture. A pupil, it is now acknowledged, will have a better appreciation of works of art with religious subjects if he or she knows what they portray.

Likewise, Russia's religious disputes of the 17th century make little sense without at least an outline knowledge of the teaching of the Russian Orthodox Church.

When such courses began to be introduced into schools on an optional basis, in the last months of the Soviet era, there were no textbooks available.

The weekly Uchitelskaya Gazeta (Teachers' Gazette) attempted to fill the gap, with course outlines and model lessons for classes on, for example, The Bible and Russian Culture, suggesting where appropriate illustrative material could be found in existing encyclopaedias and art histories.

At the same time, various foreign missionary bodies grasped the opportunity to spread their own creeds into Russian schools.

Not only the religious classes were targeted. With Russia's new emphasis on foreign languages, textbooks and auxiliary material for language classes were in short supply.

Many schools were, at first, only too happy to receive what appeared to be glossy current affairs journals from the United States, only to find later that they were promotional literature for fundamentalist faiths. Some of the more affluent groups were even more lavish with their gifts. The Scientology Church, for example, refurbished a library for Moscow State University.

This missionary activity has caused considerable concern not only to the leaders of Russia's traditional faith, the Russian Orthodox Church, but also to secular officials concerned with the rebuilding of Russian national awareness. In 1993, a Bill was put forward which would have banned all missionary activity in Russia, but it failed to become law in the confusion which followed the storming of Parliament in October 1993.

However, support for such legislation was voiced by a number of candidates in the recent general election campaign, and the issue is obviously still very much alive.

The 1993 Bill did not distinguish between non-traditional faiths and churches: Roman Catholics, fundamentalist Christians, and the Hari Krishna movement would have all suffered the same legal constraints. But parents and teachers are particularly worried about those faiths which demand of their devotees unquestioning obedience and a break with traditional family ties.

Yekaterinburg is not the only Russian town where the Unification Church has been causing concern. Last September, parents in Vladivostok published an open letter to the local authorities about Moonie influence in the city's schools.

Yekaterinburg seems to be a particular focus of their activity. Last summer, it hit the headlines as the venue of the first Moonie mass wedding in Russia.

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