Education in the Soviet Union by Michael Farris
I have just returned from spending eight days in the Soviet Union as a part of a delegation sponsored by Christian Solidarity International and led by Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia. Our purpose was to investigate the state of religious freedom in that country and to advocate the release of Christians from prison and changes in Soviet laws which would improve the treatment of churches and believers. Congressman Wolf also focused on the mistreatment of Jews and advocated their freedom as well.
In our several meetings with Soviet officials, I had the opportunity often to direct the conversation to the subject of the religious education of children. Since 1929, it has been illegal to have any form of religious education for children. This has meant that no type of Sunday school, confirmation classes, or even a church worker coming privately to one’s home has been permissible. All children are forced to receive their academic education from the state-run atheistic schools. It has been commonly understood that children under 18 were not even permitted to attend church.
Under the philosophy of perestroika (restructuring) Soviet officials are rewriting many of the laws which have restricted religion, including the laws regarding the education of children. While these changes offer some degree of hope, one must keep in mind that the Soviets have not changed their ultimate aim—the world domination of communism. They are trying to experiment with new means, because their old methods have left their country with a crippled economy and a demoralized people.
In a meeting that I had with the leading Soviet legal experts in charge of these areas, they claimed that it has never been illegal for children to attend church in the Soviet Union. If this is true (which we hotly disputed) the common people have never been told this “fact.” When we attended Moscow Baptist Church, there were only 3 children out of about 1500 in church. We actually view this statement by these legal experts as a significant change in policy, which Christian Solidarity intends to promote widely through its channels so that Russian Christians will know of this change.
It also appears that the laws will be changed to allow some form of special religious classes for children. The experts admitted that any form of religious education aimed especially at children was illegal under the current law. They may permit a Sunday school-type approach or may simply permit pastors and priests to conduct private classes for children in the home of the children.
We pressed the Soviets hard on the right to receive an academic education from either the church or from the parents at home. During the meeting with the Soviet legal experts, their expert on international law demanded to know which document of international law guaranteed the right to a religiously based academic education. I told him that this question really brought into focus our differing philosophies. While both of our countries claim to believe in “human rights,” the Soviets limit the concept of rights to documents created by men. Whatever “rights” are created by men, we told them, can also be taken away by them. Man-created rights are mere privileges. Only those who believe in rights that are inalienable because they are created by God truly believes in human rights. All others believe in human privileges.
One Soviet official responded very favorably to the concept of home education because his son was being mistreated by his public school teacher. He wanted his son to receive individualized treatment. He had no religious motivation, he just wanted the best for his son.
One of the most sobering things that occurred was the frequent parallels in thinking that we encountered in dealing with Soviet officials and the thinking that we see in this country in the opponents of religious freedom and parental rights. Soviet officials indicated that parents should be permitted to raise their children unless religious fanatics wanted to be excessive in their treatment of children. I asked for examples. Some Christian families in Russia apparently refuse to permit their children to see secular movies and exercise control over their children’s reading material. Such parents were labeled “cruel.” The hearts of many American social workers beat to this same rhythm.
Families of unregistered Baptists and Pentecostals tend to consist of very many children. It is not at all uncommon to have eight, ten, or more children. One of the principal reasons for this is that while most Soviet families live with a sense of underlying despair, these Christians believe that God is in control of their lives and their land. They have large families as a witness to the world around them to say, “With God we need not despair.”
When we face continued struggles for freedom for home schooling and other important rights, we need to keep this message in mind. God is also sovereign over America—we need not despair.