Beijing House Church Pastors Forced to Cease Activity for Olympics

House church pastors in Beijing were forced by officials to sign a document vowing to cease religious activities during the Olympic Games, a human rights group reported Wednesday.

The document, drafted by Chinese government officials, specifies that the house churches must "refrain from organizing and joining illegal gatherings and refrain from receiving donations, sermons and preaching from overseas religious organizations and groups that have a purpose," according to China Aid Association.

Furthermore, it also prohibits house churches from gathering in their communities for more than three months while the Olympic Games take place. If someone should violate the agreement, that person will be subjected to disciplinary actions by the government.

"The discovery of this document provides further evidence of the PRC's (People's Republic of China) hypocrisy towards creating a 'harmonious society' marked by religious freedom and rule of law," CAA commented.

The discovery of the document while the world's attention is on China is a "blatant challenge" to the international community, the persecution watchdog group states.

"If China is seeking to put on the mantle of a world superpower, it must first acknowledge the unalienable rights of its own people," the group argues. "CAA calls on the international community and those concerned to voice their complaint to the relevant Chinese Government authorities."

China has a long history of religious freedom violations, including regularly raiding house church gatherings and imprisoning its leaders.

In China, Christians are only allowed to worship in state-sanctioned churches supervised by the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, which follows rules set by the government.

House church Christians refuse to join the registered churches because they argue that God, and not the government, is head of the church.

President Bush, a strong defender of religious freedom, pressed the Chinese government on the house church issue during his visit last week to the Olympic Games. After attending Sunday service at a state-sanctioned church, Bush declared to reporters outside that no one should fear religious freedom, a clear – although indirect - reference to China's insistence on controlling all religions in the country.

"You know, it just goes to show that God is universal, and God is love, and no state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion," Bush had said at Kuanjie Protestant Church.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended again this year to the State Department to keep China on its religious freedom blacklist because of its treatment of house churches and religious minorities.