Religious groups will be very much in evidence on the Mall next Saturday at the 20th anniversary March for Jobs, Peace and Freedom--just as they were 20 years ago.
More than 30 religious organizations, from the American Muslim Mission to the New Jewish Agenda, have formally endorsed the march, which honors both the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the causes he fought for.
Top Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders will be among some 50 dignitaries who will address the Aug. 27 rally at the Lincoln Memorial.
For weeks, area churches have been publicizing the march and encouraging members to participate. Some groups, such as the United Methodist's Board of Church and Society, have chartered buses to ease transportation from outlying areas.
Dozens of Washington-area churches are arranging housing for persons from across the country who will come to take part in the weekend activities. Other congregations have agreed to provide breakfasts, sandwiches or bag lunches for the day, including rations for "the VIPs and the volunteer staff," said Elsie Scott, national staff religious coordinator for the event.
"We religious organizations plan to be the largest contingent in the march," Scott added.
Fourteen congregations, most of them in the downtown area, have agreed to be host churches, opening their doors 24 hours before the march and functioning as staging areas for members of their denomination. Most are planning worship services for their members on Saturday morning prior to the march.
Top leaders of a number of mainline denominations are scheduled to lead their churches' contingent in the march and participate in the program.
The religious community will begin the weekend with a massive interfaith service at Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1518 M St. NW, beginning Friday afternoon at 5:30.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, head of Operation PUSH will give the keynote address at the service, which will include readings from both the Bible and the Koran.
Other speakers will include the Rev. Dr. Avery Post, president of the United Church of Christ, Peggy Billings of the Women's Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, and the Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak, a South African clergyman who also heads the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
Following the formal service, worshippers will march to Lafayette Square for a candlelight prayer vigil. During the vigil, a videotape of King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech will be shown.
Early Saturday morning, host churches of various denominations will hold prayer services. Then, at approximately 10 a.m., all religious groups are to assemble on the Mall at 14th Street "and move en masse as a religious procession," explained the Rev. Tyrone Pitts of the National Council of Churches, who is assisting with the planning.
Among the more than a dozen religious leaders scheduled to address the rally or lead delegations on Saturday are Greek Orthodox Archbishop Iakovos; the Rev. Dr. William Sloan Coffin of Riverside Church in New York; Progressive National Baptist President, Dr. Charles Butler; Roman Catholic Archbishop James A. Hickey of Washington; Bishop James Armstrong, president of the National Council of Churches; Bishop John H. Adams of the Congress of National Black Churches; the Rev. Dr. Randolph Taylor, moderator of the Presbyterian Church; Dr. T.J. Jemison, president of the National Baptist Convention of the USA; Louis Farrahken and Imam Warith Dean Muhammad of the World Community of Islam in the West; and Rabbi Alexander Schindler, head of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
Jewish participation in this year's march will be limited because of the objections of some Jewish organizations to positions expressed by march organizers on U.S. policy in the Middle East, and because the march takes place on Saturday, the Jewish sabbath.
Also missing from the list of religious endorsers are most evangelical Protestant groups. Forest Montgomery of the National Association of Evangelicals, in response to a query about their absence from the list, said initially that his group had not been invited to participate.
Scott said that early in the planning for the march, invitations to participate were sent to "a master list of all the religious organizations in the country."
Later Montgomery called back and said some evangelicals had reservations about the theme, "Jobs, Peace and Freedom," as well as about "liberals" involved in the planning for the march.
"There might be groups participating who are for abortion on demand. We wouldn't want to be endorsing anything like that," he said.
"If it was confined simply to racial discrimination, we wouldn't have any trouble at all," he said, adding that "we passed resolutions on racial discrimination even before Brown vs. Board of Education," the case that prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to mandate school desegregation.
"But we'd have to take a long look at these other issues--'Jobs, Peace and Freedom,' " Montgomery said. "Freedom--freedom for what?"
Noting that one of the sponsoring organizations for the march is the National Organization for Women (NOW), Montgomery, who said he participated in the 1963 march, said, "I'm sure one of the freedoms they espouse is reproductive freedom, which is just another name for abortion."
Carol Publiner of NOW said there were no plans to deal with the abortion question, either in speeches or on banners used. "It's purely a question of equality," she said. "A woman's right to choose is not one of the issues of this march."
Archbishop Hickey, one of the national co-chairs of the march, has written all Roman Catholic pastors of the Washington archdiocese, asking them to encourage church members to participate.
"As a church, we are undertaking this program of prayer and common witness not to make some partisan point, but to stand with our fellow citizens of every race, religion and ideology to say we still care about unemployment, peace and civil rights," he wrote the pastors.
Special masses and prayer services have been scheduled early Saturday morning at more than 20 parishes of the archdiocese. In addition, Hickey and Auxiliary Bishop Eugene A. Marino will lead a brief prayer service in Lafayette Square at 10:30 next Saturday morning before joining the march.