eventh-day Adventist leaders in Russia appealed to the
Russian government to intervene after nine Adventist teenagers were barred from
advancing to the 10th grade for refusing to take a final exam on the Sabbath.
School officials, who had flatly rejected requests for flexibility,
appeared to back down after the appeal on behalf of the students. All were ninth
graders in the southern city of Belgorod who had missed the state exam in
mathematics on Sabbath, May 31.
Federal education authorities, who had scheduled the exam
for that day, had anticipated that some students might not be able to attend
for religious reasons. So they ordered public schools across the country to offer
the exam to those students on June 16 or June 19.
Adventist students in other parts of Russia took the exam on
June 16, four Adventist leaders with the Euro-Asia Division said in a letter to
the Russian government.
But education officials in the Belgorod region, which
includes the city of Belgorod and is located along the border with Ukraine,
refused to administer the exam on an alternative day.
“We believe that this situation is unacceptable and call on
the leadership of the Russian Federation as well as public and religious
associations to take all legal measures to eliminate these violations in the
Belgorod region,” said the letter, a copy of which was published Monday on the
website of the Euro-Asia Division, which includes 12 former Soviet republics
The letter also said local
school principals and education officials had “crudely and offensively”
pressured Adventist parents to tell their children to reject their religious
beliefs and take the exam.
“If necessary, witnesses can be brought forward who can
attest to these facts, which are insulting to the feelings of believers,” it
Russian law forbids people from “insulting the feelings of
believers,” a charge that led to the imprisonment of two female punk rockers
for singing an anti-Kremlin song in the Russian Orthodox Church’s largest
cathedral in Moscow in 2012.
“We believe that what is happening in the Belgorod region is
a flagrant violation of the principle of freedom of conscience and the
constitutional right to education, as well as putting pressure on the
conscience of believers,” the Adventist letter said. “Even in Soviet times,
during the persecution of all religious organizations, officials did not
deprive the children of religious families the opportunity to receive a secondary
The appeal appeared to have worked. One of the signatories
said by telephone on Tuesday that Belgorod officials have now agreed to let the
nine students take the math exam in August, just days before the start of the
next school year on Sept. 1.
Contact Adventist Review news editor Andrew McChesney at [email protected].