Reacting to what it called an expanding problem of racism, the inter-denominational Community Ministry of Prince George's County has asked leaders of its 32-member churches to read a statement this weekend condeming racism, particularly activity of the Ku Klux Klan.
The ministry, which comprises 14 denominations in the county, approved the reading of the statement in churches and synagogues throughout Prince George's.
The statement asks that racism and recent cross burnings and other activities of the Ku Klux Klan not be tolerated by the religious community and people of good will.
It asks that those who have been discriminated against and have fought for equal rights and individuality as citizens - blacks, American Indians, migrant workers, women - speak out against hatred, servitude, exploitation and racism.
The ministry asserted that it would not allow churches to remain silent on these issues.
"The response to this interfaith effort has not been overwhelming among those churches outside the community ministry," said the Rev. Del Hagin, director of the ministry.
Mr. Hagin feels that the hesitancy of many ministers to raise this issue in their churches is "a cover for real concerns such as the reactions of their congregations.
"Some have responded that they want more documentation and I have referred them to the P.G. County Council hearing and subsequent bill on cross burnings, and to various articles in newspapers," he said.
Cross burning incidents occurred 21 times last year in the county, according to councilman Floyd E. Wilson Jr. The Council's bill approved June 7, increases penalties for this crime to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
"Ministers are concerned that their congregations will not be receptive to this issue with or without documentation because they don't want to believe it," Mr. Hagin said. "People have these feelings themselves. There's a bit of racism in all of us."