Graham chides Chinese ambassador over Bible ban

WASHINGTON -- U.S. 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, a Seneca Republican, 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, who is running for re-election in 2008 .

Wang Bao Dong, 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 sportsmen 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.