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Teaching Religion in Sunday School May Get Your Church Liquidated

On March 24, 2008, Methodist Church of Smolensk was liquidated at the request of the Regional Prosecutor. The grounds for liquidation were that the Sunday school the Church ran for children did not have an educational license.

SCLJ's Vladimir Ryakhovsky explains what this Methodist Sunday school really looked like: the small community of about 30 was gathering in a small wooden house and there were usually four or five children. During the service, when the grown-ups were listening to the sermon, the kids were taken to the next room. One of the parishioners, a retired teacher, or other parents organized “classes” for them. They were reading the illustrated Bible, answering questions, and the children could draw or mould Biblical scenes from plasticine.  This is what the Prosecutor insisted was the “educational process” which, in his opinion, had to be licensed. He used the children's drawings as a proof of the breach of law.
 
The question naturally arose during the hearing as to whose interests the Prosecutor’s Office was defending when applying for liquidation of the Church – after all, neither the children, nor their parents ever complained! On the contrary, the Church members were glad that their children were being looked after during services. It turned out that the one who complained was a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Ignaty. In his complaint to the Prosecutor, he demanded that the latter should inspect the Methodists since he thought they were harmful and dangerous for society. However, the Prosecutor was unable to explain during the hearing how a Sunday school harmed the bishop, interfered with his rights, or in what other way the Methodists were “dangerous.”

By the way, in the bishop’s own parish, a Sunday school also functions - and nobody is demanding any license from it.  The Prosecutor’s Office does not intend to stop with the Methodists – they said in court that they would inspect other religious groups.

Says Vladimir Ryakhovsky: “There are over 22,000 religious groups in Russia and most have Sunday schools of some kind. The law gives religious groups an inalienable right to teach their followers the tenets of their faith. A license is only required for the institutions which provide professional religious education.”

SCLJ will take this case to the European Court of Human Rights where a victory for the Methodist church is guaranteed since this is a blatant case of discrimination against religious organizations which do not belong to the dominant Church.

 
Slavic Center for Law and Justice
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