Kiev Schools to Teach Christianity

KIEV, Ukraine - Some public schools in the Ukrainian capital will begin teaching Christian ethics this year in an experimental program aimed at reinforcing the country's thousand-year Christian heritage, Kiev city officials said Thursday.

The course, titled "Christian Ethics in Ukrainian Culture: The Path of Good," raised concern among Kiev's minority Jewish population, and among state education officials, who called its introduction premature.

The class for 6-year-olds will be launched in 100 of Kiev's 527 schools, reaching about 6,000 pupils. Any parent can choose to have a child opt out of the lessons. Next year, city officials aim to have the lessons reach all of the capital's 21,100 first-grade students.

Ukraine, which is predominantly Orthodox Christian, has flirted before with the idea of introducing a religion-based ethics class, but earlier plans ran into opposition from the country's Jews and Muslims. This latest project also sparked some concerns, but the Kiev city administration -- headed by a mayor who once sent a Bible to every Ukrainian lawmaker -- has vowed to go ahead. "There is a path of good and a path of evil, and wherever God acts, the devil also appears," Deputy Mayor Vitaliy Zhuravsky said. "Whoever opposes introducing Christian ethics -- for me, that's devilry."

Ilya Levitas, president of Jewish Council of Ukraine, called it a "very one-sided approach." He noted that Ukraine has numerous other religions, including Judaism and Islam, and also questioned whether the class would have any impact. "If you want to foster belief, you should take children to church," he said.

Kiev officials said the class, built around a textbook written by an Orthodox priest, could help give students a moral base. The titles of the lessons include "The Church is God's Home" and "Resurrection: Victory of Good over Evil." There are also lessons focused on Ukrainian cultural figures and Ukrainian history.

"The goal is to foster moral behavior, spiritual values and a love for the homeland," said Father Bohdan Ogulchansky, author of the textbook.

Ukraine's education minister, Stanislav Nikolayenko, suggested this week that the city government should hold off on the classes, warning that "ill-prepared activity could destroy a good idea."

Zhuravsky disagreed. "We need to act now," he said, and referred to the growing problems of drug abuse and alcoholism among Ukrainian youth. He said that, despite the education ministry's protests, the city administration was prepared to go ahead, noting it was the city that funded the capital's schools.

"Ukraine is a Christian nation, and Christian ethics are part of our culture," he said. Some 97 percent of Ukraine's registered religious communities are Christian, about half of them Orthodox. Protestant churches have a small presence but have been attracting worshippers rapidly. Jews make up about 1 percent of the population.