Title page of the Ostrih Bible, a 16th
century Ukrainian Bible in the collection
of the Library of Congress.
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham reprimanded the Chinese ambassador to the United States on Wednesday over reports that Bibles are on a list of prohibited items for athletes who stay in the Olympic village during next year's Beijing Games.
Graham, a longtime critic of China over its currency manipulation and trade tariffs, said he called Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong and complained about the reported Bible ban.
"This would be contrary to the Olympic spirit," Graham said in an interview after speaking with the envoy. "It would be a totalitarian move that would create problems between China and the United States far beyond what we have today."
Zhou said he hadn't heard that Olympic athletes won't be able to have Bibles, according to Graham. The ambassador promised to check the report and get back to the senator.
Wang Baodong, Zhou's spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said he also spoke with Ambassador Zhou about the issue.
"This is really news to us," Wang said. "As far as I know, the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games is committed to providing religious services to all the athletes and visitors during the Olympic Games."
The Chinese government is building a religious center for athletes of various faiths and also constructing a Catholic church for Olympians of that faith, Wang said.
The Bible ban was first reported last week by a sports newspaper in Italy. The Catholic News Agency, the New York Sun and other religious and conservative outlets have publicized the report in recent days, setting off outraged commentary on various blogs.
La Gazzetta dello Sport said Olympic organizers cited security reasons for prohibiting Bibles and other items with religious symbols, according to the Catholic News Agency.
China and the Vatican broke diplomatic ties in 1949 after communists took power in Beijing. The Catholic Church is officially banned in China, and bishops and priests have been imprisoned, though some churches continue to operate.
About 5 million Chinese Catholics belong to state-sanctioned churches that reject the Pope's full authority, according to the Washington Post. Another 8 million Chinese Catholics remain loyal to the Vatican and practice their faith in secret churches.
"If this communist regime tried to ban an American athlete from having a Bible during the Olympic competition, it would reinforce all the concerns I've had about China and remove all doubt about the nature of this dictatorship as being an oppressive regime that tries to limit speech and engages in unfair business practices," Graham said.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.