U.S. Deplores Belarussian Law on Religions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Friday deplored a new Belarussian law regulating religious activity.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko signed the amended law on Thursday over the objections of small religious denominations that consider it discriminatory.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said: "The new Belarussian law ... contradicts international principles of religious freedom and human rights.

"We join the European Union and members of many faiths in our opposition to this law, which appears intended primarily to hinder and prevent the activities of religious groups that the Lukashenko regime considers 'nontraditional' faiths," he added in a written statement.

The State Department complained the law also places restrictions on all faiths by requiring permission from government authorities for religious processions and activities, like Masses, weddings, funerals, and religious meetings.

"We call upon the Lukashenko regime to take the necessary measures to ensure that Belarussian citizens, regardless of religious faith, have the same opportunities to conduct worship without hindrance and in keeping with international norms on the freedom of religion," the statement added.

The Bush administration has a legal requirement to monitor the level of religious freedom in foreign countries. Washington has had poor relations with Belarus for several years.