Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev announced a new pilot project to teach young Russians religion or secular ethics.
This is the first time government has allowed any religion besides communism in its institutions since the collapse of the atheist Soviet Union began in the 1980s.
Medvedev said pre-teen students at 12,000 schools in 18 regions will take the classes. He emphasized that the classes will include only "the largest of Russia's traditional religions" -- Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, or students can take an overview of all four faiths.
Other faiths, such as Roman Catholicism or Protestantism were omitted. And a course in secular ethics will be an option.
"Students and their parents must be allowed to choose freely," Medvedev said addressing top clerics and officials at his residence outside Moscow. "Any coercion, pressure will be absolutely unacceptable and counterproductive."
More than 100 million people are part of the Russian Orthodox Church congregation, but polls show that only about 5 percent of Russians are observant believers.
Medvedev also said the classes could expand nationwide by 2012.