A group of scientists and human rights activists has established the Moscow Society of Atheists in order to revive an ideology that has gone out of fashion here during a decade of post-communist life.

The society has been set up to defend Russia against what its members see as the threat of clericalism as religion, particularly the Russian Orthodox Church, the country's main church, grows in influence.

One of the Society of Atheists' organizers, human rights activist Lev Levinson, told ENI that his organization's first major action would be to send an open letter to President Vladimir Putin, protesting against a mention of God in the new text of the Russian national anthem. Levinson said this was at odds with the constitution which proclaimed that Russia was a secular state.

Referring to a line of the anthem that states that "the native land [is] protected by God," Levinson said: "It is not up to the state to establish whether God exists or not."

Russia's new anthem is set to the music of the old Soviet anthem, and was the subject of intense debate here last year. Presumably anxious to avoid another debate over the wording, President Putin adopted, unilaterally by presidential decree, anew text for the anthem two days before New Year's Eve, when the anthem was given its premiere on national television.

In the new text, written by Sergei Mikhalkov, the same poet who wrote the words of the communist anthem in 1943, praise for Soviet pioneer Lenin and the Communist Party is replaced with praise for Russia as the "holy country."

Levinson, who has built a reputation as one of the most vocal defenders of freedom of conscience, told ENI that the Society of Atheists, set up by a group of students several months ago, was lodging an application ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.