CHURCHES in Russia have backed a reference to God in their country’s amended constitution, after the plan was agreed by President Putin at the behest of Russian Orthodox leaders.
The clause under Article 3, still to be ratified, states that the Russian Federation, “united by a thousand years of history, recognises the historically developed state unity while preserving the memory of ancestors who gave us ideals, belief in God and continuity in the development of the Russian state”.
Government officials said that the invocation would have symbolic importance a century after the savage imposition of Communist rule, and dismissed criticisms that it would undermine church-state separation and secular norms.
“In asserting peace in a multinational and multiconfessional country, we support the proposal to include God in the text of the updated constitution”, members of Russia’s Inter-Faith Council confirmed in a statement, co-signed by Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist leaders, as well as leaders of the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Adventist, Pentecostalist, and Armenian Apostolic Churches.
“We believe it will consolidate the value of the religious beliefs of our country’s peoples, historically and culturally related to the religions we represent, as well as strengthening spiritual continuity with respect to our ancestors.”
The message was circulated as the Constitutional Court met to review the amendments, signed by President Putin on 14 March after approval by the State Duma and Russia’s 85 regional parliaments. The amendments are expected to be ratified in an “all-Russian vote” (referendum) on 22 April.
The religious leaders said that discussion of the constitutional changes among religious communities had been a sign of “civic maturity and responsibility for the fate of the fatherland”.
They welcomed proposed clauses enshrining marriage “as a union of man and woman” and “protecting traditional family values”, including the right of parents to bring up children in line with their “religious and philosophical beliefs”, as well as new provisions protecting the Russian language, history, and culture.
The Human Rights Commissioner for Russia, Tatyana Moskalkova, said that the divine invocation was “addressed to all religious denominations”, and would not encroach on atheist rights.
“Perhaps the appeal to faith and moral foundations merits attention, especially since there is only one God,” Ms Moskalkova told journalists in Moscow. “Today’s society is demanding a strengthening of our moral foundations, while everything associated with the concepts of justice and good and evil has a special value for modern times.”
While redistributing some powers to the Duma, the changes, spread over 14 articles, will enable the President, who has been in power since 2000, to seek a fifth term as ruler in 2024 — and possibly a sixth in 2030.
They will also confirm the priority of Russian law over international norms, after repeated criticisms of the country’s record by the European Court of Human Rights and other bodies, require holders of security-related posts to renounce foreign citizenships and residence rights, and strengthen state control over the nomination of judges.
In January, the Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill I, called for a reference to God to be included, in a move widely seen as a trade-off for church support of Putin’s extended presidency.
Addressing the Inter-Religious Council, Patriarch Kirill said that acknowledging the value of faith in God would solidify the “historical and spiritual continuity of the country’s peoples”, besides offering tribute to millions persecuted for their religious beliefs under Soviet rule.