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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Atheist Challenges 'God' in Anthem

An atheist activist is mounting a challenge in the Constitutional Court over the use of the word "God" in the national anthem, and he said Tuesday that he was hoping to draw attention to a blurring of the line between church and state.

Alexander Nikonov, the head of the Moscow Atheistic Society, has lodged a complaint in the court about the fourth line of the second verse of the national anthem -- "The land of my birth protected by God" -- for the reason that it contravenes his constitutional rights.

Nikonov and his supporters said at a news conference Tuesday that the lawsuit aimed to highlight how the Russian Orthodox Church was becoming a state religion in contravention of the Constitution, which says that the state and religion should be separate.

Nikonov noted that an Orthodox church was being built in Interior Ministry facilities at the government's expense and that the new Nov. 4 holiday, People's Unity Day, falls on the same day as an Orthodox holiday.

"There's a slavish feeling" among politicians and bureaucrats, said Mikhail Arutyunov, the president of the International Human Rights Assembly. "When they see [President Vladimir] Putin bowing before an icon, they believe there is no other way."

To send the complaint to the Constitutional Court, Nikonov first had to be turned down by a local court. He did that by attempting to take Channel One television to a Moscow court for playing the national anthem -- with "the bad word beginning with G," as he called it -- every morning at 6.

If the activists win, it will not be the first time that words have been removed from the anthem. The original anthem lyrics, written by Sergei Mikhalkov, the father of film director Nikita Mikhalkov, contained words of praise for Stalin excised from it in the 1950s.

Putin brought back the Soviet national anthem five years ago, ditching a wordless piece of music by the 19th-century composer Mikhail Glinka that had been chosen after the Soviet collapse. Putin's version drastically revised the text of the Soviet-era version and added the word God.