Falun Gong Adherents Barred from Olympics
Ministry Values.com: BEIJING (AP): Organizers of the Beijing Olympics sought to quash reports that Bibles would be prohibited at the Games next year, saying Thursday that religious texts for personal use are welcome.
Controversy over the reported Bible ban was just the latest speed bump for China's leadership, which wants use the Games to project a positive image of the country.
The reports in the Catholic News Agency and European media touched off an outcry prompting a U.S. senator to call the Chinese ambassador for an explanation and a Christian athletes group to protest the "deep violation.''
The Beijing Olympics organizing committee flatly denied the reports.
"There is no such thing. This kind of report is an intentional distortion of truth,'' said Li Zhanjun, director of the Beijing Olympics media center. Li said texts and items from major religious groups that are brought for personal use by athletes and visitors are permitted.
A notice on the official Beijing Olympics Web site explaining entry procedures into the country said "each traveler is recommended to take no more than one Bible into China.''
However, the policy does not apply to Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that has been declared a cult by the Chinese government and banned. China has cracked down hard on followers of the sect, who the U.S. State Department has said face arrest, detention and even possible torture and abuse.
"We don't recognize it because it's a cult.
So Falun Gong texts, Falun Gong activities in China are forbidden,'' Li said. "Foreigners who come to China must respect and abide by the laws of China.''
Though Olympics preparations such as venue construction have hummed along at a record pace, China has had to defend itself against criticisms of its human rights record, environment and activities in Sudan.
Beijing's air is so polluted that International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge has said some events could be postponed. Others have said that China has been ruthless in its pursuit of resources to fuel its booming economy _ turning a blind eye to the bloodshed in the Darfur region of Sudan while buying two-thirds of the country's oil output.
Authorities routinely clamp down on activists and dissidents, and the U.S. State Department said in a report earlier this year that respect for religious freedom in China remained poor.
Beijing continues to repress Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim Uighurs and the Falun Gong, the report said. More than 100 foreign missionaries have reportedly been expelled in what critics say is an effort to "tighten control on Christian house churches prior to the 2008 Olympics,'' the report said.
The reports about the Bible ban _ which said Bibles were on a list of "prohibited objects'' in the Olympic Village _ prompted U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, to telephone the Chinese ambassador for an explanation.
"If true, it would be outrageous act of censorship that would be rejected and condemned by the entire international community and people of all religions,'' the senator said in a statement. "There is no value needed more in the world at this critical time in human history than religious tolerance.''
The U.S.-based 4 Winds Christian Athletics group said a ban would be a "deep violation of the Christian athletes that we represent.''
"Our organization represents athletes who love Christ and will never give up their daily Bible readings during the Olympics,'' it said in an e-mail statement.
Religion in China is regulated by the ruling Communist party, which is atheist. Worship is allowed only in party-controlled churches, temples and mosques. Worship outside that official structure, such as at Tibetan Buddhist retreats or home churches, is banned, and organizers face harassment, arrest and terms in labor camps or prison.
Bibles are allowed to be sold only in the approved churches, according to a document posted on the Web site of the State Administration for Religious Affairs and a man in the bureau's regulation department, who refused to give his name.
A woman at the Wangfujing bookstore, one of the largest in Beijing, said the store was not allowed to sell them and never has.
Though government-approved religious services in China are generally identical to those abroad, authorities control the number of officials such as priests and monks, and have final say on the appointment of leaders. The Communist party also restricts outside activities such as printing religious literature and charity work.
Non-approved foreigners, such as tourists, are strictly prohibited from spreading religion in China.
The Olympic charter bans religious discrimination, and services _ Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist _ will be available to athletes in the Olympic Village next summer, Li said.
Religious texts should be available. "Even if there aren't, the athletes can bring the texts themselves, there's no restriction,'' he said.
IOC rule 51 states "no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.''
But that rule is in place to prevent participants from using the games as a political platform and doesn't include any ban on Bibles.