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Churches don't belong in Arabia, official says

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — As Islam's birthplace, Saudi Arabia will never allow churches to be built, said Prince Sultan, the defense minister.

"This country was the launch pad for the prophecy and the message and nothing can contradict this, even if we lose our necks," Sultan said in comments reported by Saudi newspapers.

Those who want to establish churches "are, unfortunately, fanatics," Sultan said. "There are no churches — not in the past, the present or future. Whoever said this must shut up and be ashamed."

Islam's founding Prophet Muhammad allowed Arabia's Christian churches to continue operating, and many Muslim nations follow his example.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent federal agency, complained when Saudi Arabia was omitted on the new State Department list of countries that severely limit religious freedom.

Sultan noted that resident foreigners are allowed to worship privately in their homes.