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Despite official scorn, interest in religion rises in Soviet Union

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But the most strenous efforts are directed toward depriving the church of future believers, through indoctrination of all Soviet young people in atheism. Any sort of organized religious instruction for children, such as Sunday schools , is strictly prohibited. But the state does require courses in ''scientific atheism'' in high school and college curriculums.

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''Since religion is separated from the school,'' explains Yuri Smirnov, a spokesman for the government's religious affairs committee, ''that means, of course, that it must be an atheistic education.''

In an interview with a Communist Party publication, Soviet Minister of Education M. A. Prokofiev said, ''The development of atheist convictions and views, of an irreconcilable attitude toward religious ideology and religious morals, is a most important, integral part of the work of general secondary schools in forming a communist outlook on the part of students.''

The party and its various affiliated organizations (such as the Young Communist League) do not stop there: They have entire departments specifically charged with producing atheistic propaganda and agitation. Atheism is promoted in newspapers, radio, television, at workplaces, in schools and youth organizations, and through public lectures.

Nevertheless, the first secretary of the Moscow Young Communist League told a recent gathering: ''The atheist education of the young needs to be considerably improved. The effectiveness of atheistic propaganda remains insufficient.''

He revealed that some league members are baptizing their children. The number , he said, has remained constant over the past three years.

Communist of the Armed Forces, the political journal of the Soviet military, complained of religious observance in the military.

The magazine reported that some soldiers are carrying prayer books while in uniform. Others, it said, had objected to carrying arms on religious grounds and had worked out arrangements with commanding officers so they could avoid doing so.

Officers, the magazine said, should not enter into such collaborations. There was a need, it concluded, to actively discourage religious belief by recruits.

Pravda has also listed specific regions where concern over religion is greatest. These include the Russian cities of Ryazan and Vladimir, Lvov in the Ukraine, and the republics of Lithuania (which is near the border with Catholic Poland), Turkmenia (a heavily Muslim area on the border with Iran and Afghanistan), and Armenia. (Armenians claim their nation was the world's first to officially proclaim itself a Christian state.)

The government's concern over religion is more than ideological: It clearly has a political dimension.

Pravda has charged that the West is trying to ''unite people of the same belief and prompt them to get involved in a process of destabilizing socialism by exploiting their religious feelings and giving them an anti-Soviet, nationalist direction.''

Mr. Smirnov says, ''All of our enemies try to turn ideological opposition into political opposition. And we have no political opposition in this country.''