Protestant and Jewish groups have joined to promote passage of key civil rights legislation -- without amendments backed by the Roman Catholic Church on the sensitive abortion issue.

"The urgency of restoring the rights of so many citizens leads us to call upon those who would use this legislation to reverse this nation's laws and policies regarding abortion . . . to respect plurality of beliefs and deal with these issues on their own merits -- not by attaching them to the Civil Rights Restoration Act," said Jane Hull Harvey of the United Methodist Church's Board of Church and Society in announcing the new initiative Wednesday.

The call for support for the long-stalled Civil Rights Restoration Act was made by a coalition of 16 religious groups, organized by the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights.

At issue is legislation that seeks to overturn the 1984 Supreme Court decision, which sharply restricted the reach of federal antidiscrimination laws.

The court, in a decision involving alleged discrimination at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, ruled that only those programs at an institution that directly receive federal funds and not the entire institution are subject to antibias laws and remedies.

Efforts to overturn the ruling by reestablishing institutionwide coverage of civil rights laws have been stymied for three years by efforts to add antiabortion language to the legislation.

"While this bill languishes in Congress, men and women who are entitled to the full protection of our civil rights statutes are thwarted in their efforts to find simple justice and our tax dollars continue to support institutions that discriminate," said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Opponents of the legislation, including the U.S. Catholic Conference, claim it would infringe on religious liberty by forcing church-related institutions to perform or pay for abortions against their will.