Venezuelans Protest New Law Banning Religious Education, Imposing Socialism in Nation’s Schools

Venezuelans erupted into protest this weekend in response to a new law that seeks to indoctrinate the nation’s students in the "21st Century Socialism" of Hugo Chavez and eliminate religious instruction from the nation’s schools.

The law will also reportedly establish censorship of the press, prohibiting communications that "produce terror in children, incite to hatred, and offend the healthy values of the Venezuelan people and the mental and physical health of the population."

Students peacefully protesting the new law were met with tear gas and water sprayed by the police, as well as rocks and sticks thrown by Chavez supporters, according to multiple media accounts.

A group of reporters from opposition newspapers, also in a protest against the law, were assaulted and injured by pro-Chavez forces, sparking protests and demands for prosecution of the culprits.  Chavez denounced the attack and says he is investigating.

However, Venezuela’s increasingly dictatorial president was unapologetic and defiant in his defense of the new Education Law.

"We have to dismantle the system of capitalist bourgeois education.  Now, the law is obligatory, university authorities that do not arise from a legitimate process may not be recognized. Enough with the dictatorship in the universities!"

At the signing of the law on Saturday, Chavez said that it was necessary for "the profound revolution, the creation of new men and women, the socialist revolution," and added that "true democracy can only exist in socialism."

The law gives Chavez an iron grip over the entire educational system, public and private, allowing him to decide what must be taught, which professors may be hired or fired, and how many students may be admitted to particular schools, reports the Argentinian newspaper La Nacion.

The new law also gives power to "community councils" to be organized and paid for by the government, which will act as "agents of education" with the "pedagogical role of liberator for the formation of a new citizenry," according to the Spanish newspaper El Pais.

Rumors have circulated for weeks that the councils will have the power to remove children from the custody of their parents as early as three years of age, in order to raise them according to socialist values, although some officials have denied the claim.

Chavez has warned that any universities that refuse to comply with the new law will lose their government recognition.  However, leaders from the nations private universities have announced their intention to initiate a "general state of protest."

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