Billy Graham's decision to accept an invitation to speak at a Russian church-sponsored peace conference in Moscow, beginning May 10, has sparked some criticism among evangelical Christians in this country who fear he is "compromising with Marxism," as the evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, put it.
Reluctant to express public criticism of Graham, a group of Washington-area evangelicals turned their dissatisfaction on the Soviet Union instead. Inviting Jews and other Christians to join them, the group gathered several hundred signatures for a petition calling for the release of all religious leaders now imprisoned in the Soviet Union.
"We believe in dialogue, but not through prison walls," the petition said in speaking of the peace conference. The petition, delivered to the Soviet Embassy here, called on Soviet authorities "in the name of God and humanity to release promptly all religious prisoners and prisoners of conscience . . . ." The effort was sponsored by the Institute for Religion and Democracy.
To celebrate May Day, a group of Chicagoans, backed by the American Jewish Committee, came to town yesterday to deliver to the Soviet Embassy an unusual petition--a carefully drawn request for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Andrei Sakharov. The dissident Soviet physicist has been in internal exile in the city of Gorky since early 1980.
The habeas corpus writ charges that Sakharov, who went on a hunger strike last year to force the Soviets to permit his daughter-in-law to leave Russia to join her husband in this country, maintains he was exiled without any formal charge against him.
The petition, signed by "his next of friends, the Midwest Interreligious Attorneys Task Force for Soviet Jewry of Chicago," says that Sakharov's punishment violates his rights under the Soviet constitution and is also a violation of several human rights agreements that the Soviets have signed.
The Interfaith Conference will observe the national day of prayer next Thursday with an interfaith prayer service at St. John's Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square at 1 p.m.
Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu religious leaders will gather at 12:30 p.m. at the Metropolitan AME Church, 1518 M St. NW, and, led by Metropolitan AME's choir, will march down 16th Street to St. John's Church.