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Chinese officials instruct pastors to post signs banning children from churches

(Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)Believers take part in a weekend mass at an underground Catholic church in Tianjin November 10, 2013.

Chinese officials have reportedly instructed priests and pastors in several regions to post notices informing parishioners that minors are barred from entering churches.

The latest instructions appear to be part of a new set of regulations on religious activities that went into effect on Feb. 1.

An unnamed priest in Hebei province has told UCA News that the authorities had instructed clergymen in some areas to put up signs prohibiting minors from entering religious venues, prayer houses and other church premises.

"They also threaten churches that they cannot be used if they refuse to post the signs," the priest said.

A Catholic known only as Peter had seen some of the signs posted in churches in Xinjiang. He complained that the officials have no legal grounds to prohibit from entering religious venues, and he has accused the authorities of violating China's constitution, which was supposed to be the country's highest law.

"When minors enter internet bars, the government and police turn a blind eye. However, they are becoming very strict in prohibiting minors from entering religious venues. It is ridiculous," Peter said.

Peter pointed out that the constitution clearly stipulates that citizens have religious freedom, while other laws protect teenagers and children from discrimination because of their religious beliefs.

He went on to note that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also stipulates that parents can educate their children in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Father John of the underground Catholic community in northeast China said that he had heard about the new regulations from the authorities.

"Officials do not want us to be really underground, which would mean they would lose our traces and not know where we are," he said.

"If our dogma is not meddled with, everything will be fine. If the religious affairs bureau and the public security bureau understand us, they will not have any worries. If we are really undergoing clandestine activities, we are really a problem to them," he added.

He noted that the public security bureau wants to be aware of their whereabouts and to put all their situations under its control.

The policy barring minors from churches was already in place in other parts of China prior to the implementation of the new regulations on Feb. 1.

Last August, officials had issued notices to more than a hundred churches in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, telling Christians that children will no longer be allowed to enter any church. The notices indicated that minors who attempt to enter churches will be turned away at the door, even if they are accompanied by their parents.

At least four regional governments have reportedly issued notices that prohibited minors from joining Christian groups and taking part in religious activities.

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