Valeri Barinov is a risky Christian. He is a rock singer and composer in Leningrad who wrote a Christian opera and whose band of musicians always includes a public Christian testimony wherever it plays.

Barinov was bold enough to petition the Soviet government for permission to perform the opera in public, and for his efforts he was classified as a patient at the Leningrad psychiatric hospital. His friends and family knew what that meant. Besides the loss of his job as a driver, Barinov could be arrested at any time and hauled off to the hospital, a common dumping place for Soviet dissidents.

The worst fears were realized last month. On October 11, Barinov was arrested at a subway stop and taken to police headquarters. From there, he was rushed in an ambulance to the Skvortsov-Stepanov Hospital in Leningrad. Barinov’s wife, Tatyana, was allowed to see her husband on October 15, and learned that he was given daily injections of chlorpromazine, a strong tranquilizer used in severe cases of mental illness. The doctor in charge of the case told Tatyana that her husband is a renegade and a social parasite, and is in need of treatment.

There was more bad news. Barinov’s church expelled him from membership, reportedly under pressure from the KGB. Without membership in a church, Barinov’s legal standing was weakened. He was a member of one of the registered churches, which are allowed to exist because they voluntarily limit their activities and cooperate with government authorities. It is the unregistered churches that suffer much persecution.

Before his troubles with the authorities began, Barinov and his musicians secretly recorded their opera and began circulating tapes around Leningrad. Several copies reached Keston College in England, and the music was broadcast back to the Soviet Union on Western radio. The effect on his young following around the Soviet Union was electric, and letters of appreciation were sent to him in Leningrad. Barinov wrote in June that “on the basis of these letters it is evident that people, especially young people, are beginning to wake up from a spiritual slumber which has been caused by official atheism. People are beginning to understand that a desolate soul cannot be satisfied with alcohol, drugs, or even wealth. It is as if the cry of the spirit of our people is expressed in these letters: ‘We want to know about God. We need God. We are sick of the atheist brochures which lie on the shelves of our bookshops. We want the Holy Book, the Bible.’ ”

On October 20, Barinov was discharged from the hospital. Friends attributed the unexpected event to publicity in the Western news media, especially radio reports that are broadcast into the Soviet Union. His future, however, is uncertain. His wife was told that future “treatment” will be considered when a medical commission meets to study the case. On the same day Barinov was released, Sergei Timokhin, one of the members of the rock band, learned that criminal charges were being filed against him. The offense: producing and selling clothing in private.

“There is a lot more religious discrimination going on than most of us realize,” says constitutional law specialist John Eidsmoe of the Oral Roberts University Law School. A recently released draft of a report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights agrees. The study concludes that federal agencies and courts are not protecting adequately the right of Americans to practice religion.

“Discrimination is hard to prove,” Eidsmoe says. “If someone is looking for a legal reason to fire a teacher he can usually find it. After all, there’s no such thing as a perfect teacher.”

If religious discrimination can be proved, Eidsmoe and several other prominent constitutional lawyers think Bergman v. Bowling Green State University, which will be tried in federal court next October, may be the case that will do it.

In 1979, Jerry Bergman, who had taught at Bowling Green (Ohio) since 1973, was denied tenure and eventually dismissed because of his Christian beliefs, he contends. To the chagrin of some of his former colleagues in the Department of Foundation and Inquiry at BGSU (where he taught assessment and evaluation, and psychology). Bergman defended in print his view that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools.

For tenure, Bergman needed support from two-thirds of the tenured faculty in his area of specialty. The school’s faculty charter states that “tenure must be granted or denied solely on the basis of teaching, research, and service.”

Bergman believes he passed all these tests. In college-conducted teacher evaluations, he consistently ranked at least in the eightieth percentile. He started a club that raised thousands of dollars for the university’s library. His writings include a textbook published in 1981 by Houghton-Mifflin, and nearly 200 articles, more than the rest of his department combined.

In addition to the lawsuit in federal court, Bergman filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency, which deferred the matter to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. The Ohio commission deemed Bergman’s record at BGSU adequate, but concluded that tenure was denied on the basis of the faculty vote and that nothing more could be done.

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Bergman then hired attorney Wendell Bird, a First Amendment specialist. Bird, who is not directly involved in the case at the federal level, is trying to get the EEOC to reconsider. He points out that in the only two similar cases, federal appeals courts ruled that, in denying tenure, a university may not appeal finally to a faculty vote—that it must give reasons for the denial.

Commenting on Bergman’s academic qualifications, Michael Ferrari, former provost at Bowling Green who helped oversee the tenure process, observes that quantity does not mean quality. “This was a judgment call,” Ferrari says. “The people who specialize in Dr. Bergman’s field of study determined he did not measure up.” Ferrari notes that an appeals committee at the university found no evidence of discrimination.

But Robert Reed. Bergman’s department chairman; David Elsass, dean of education at Bowling Green in 1979; and several faculty members in the department had no qualms about Bergman’s record and gave him their support.

Bird has numerous affidavits, including some signed by professors in Bergman’s department, stating that Bergman’s religion was the primary reason he was denied tenure. “The evidence is compelling,” Bird says, “that this is clearly a case of religious discrimination.”

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