Two Washington clergymen were searched and detained for four hours at a Moscow airport Friday by Soviet customs agents, who confiscated religious materials they were carrying and lectured them against bringing such items into the U.S.S.R.
The clergymen, the Rev. John Steinbruck, pastor of the Luther Place Memorial Church of Thomas Circle and the Rev. Eugene Brake, of Holy Name Catholic Church at 920 11th St. NE, told reporters in Moscow they were frisked by agents after customs inspectors found papers and tapes in Hebrew in their luggage.
Two Chicago women, a mother and daughter who arrived on the same flight and whose names were not immediately available, were also detained and searched by Soviet authorities. Apparently, they were singled out for scrutiny because the daughter was carrying a Hebrew-language text and a Barbra Streisand record that had a Hebrew song on it.
"The customs authorities evidently were offended by any item of a religious nature," Steinbruck said.
Steinbruck, Brake and the two women who arrived on the same Helsinki-to-Moscow flight Friday were apparently the only Americans singled out for thorough searches. They were part of a tourist group of Americans traveling to Moscow, Kiev and Leningrad for eight days.
Items seized from the clerics included letters addressed to U.S. Ambassador Thomas J. Watson Jr. from Christian Solidarity International, a religious human rights group, and to two Russian Pentacostalist families who have been living in the U.S. Embassy for nearly two years while seeking permission from Soviet authorities to emigrate.
Soviet officials also confiscated from Steinbruck and Brake some papers bearing addresses of several people they had hoped to visit in the U.S.S.R., a tape recording described as being "of a Jewish Educational Nature," a Russian-language book and a copy of a Jewish prayer.
"We had been hoping to pray together with some Jewish friends" in the Soviet Union, Steinbruck explained.
The four Americans were held at Sheremetyevo Airport and subjected to, they said, rigorous physical searches upon entering the country late Friday evening. The travelers then reported the incident to American consular officers yesterday.
Despite the seizure of the letters, the clergymen said they were still able to deliver some messages Saturday to the two Pentacostal families living at the U.S. Embassy.
But after the clerics returned to their Moscow hotel Saturday night, they said, they discoverd their belongings had been searched again and that several items, including a tape recorder, were missing.
Despite the incidents, Steinbruck, a Lutheran, and Brake, a Catholic, said they intend to continue their trip.
The U.S. Embassy has reported several incidents recently of aggressive customs searches of incoming American tourists and three incidents in which tourists were shoved and verbally abused on the streets of Moscow.