China said Thursday that Bibles are not banned from the Olympic Games amid recent furor over reports that Beijing would not allow foreign athletes from carrying Bibles during the upcoming Games.
The officially atheist government also reiterated past promises, saying it will guarantee religious freedom during the Summer Olympics in Beijing next year.
“The Chinese government has made no such stipulations,” reported foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao, in response to the alleged Bible ban.
"China's law will guarantee religious freedom during the Olympics. What will not be allowed is bringing in Bibles for distribution or propaganda," he said, according to Agence France-Presse.
Athletes, journalists, and tourists will be allowed to bring worship items, including the Bible, for personal use, said the official.
The report that China was banning Bibles at the Games was published by the Catholic News Agency, which cited the Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport and Spanish daily La Razon.
News quickly spread including in the U.S. Capitol, prompting Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to reprimand the Chinese ambassador to the United States on Wednesday, according to The Herald.
“This would be contrary to the Olympic spirit,” Graham said to reporters after the meeting. “It would be a totalitarian move that would create problems between China and the United States far beyond what we have today.”
Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan also made a speech about the Bible ban on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday. He introduced a resolution condemning the attack on Christianity and called on Beijing to allow the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom or another international human rights group to have unrestricted access to events to ensure the protection of religious people.
However, China dismissed the Bible ban as “sheer rumor” and said its religious affairs authorities and the Beijing Olympic organizing committee “have not” and “could not” issue a ban on Bibles in the Olympic village, Liu said according to Xinhua news agency.
Currently, Bibles in China are printed solely under government supervision and can only be sold only at approved churches. Many Chinese Christians, however, choose to worship in unregistered house churches because they argue Jesus Christ is the head of the church and not the Chinese government. Registered churches are for the most part controlled by the government.
Notably, the official 2008 Games website advises visitors to not bring more than one Bible.