"We looked around only to see an absence of the progressive voice in the dialogue on family values and in politics," said the Rev. George Regas, executive director of Regas Institute, which studies "progressive" religion.
The Washington conference is sponsored by People For the American Way, a left-wing organization led by attorney Ralph Neas.
The rally kicked off Wednesday night, the 33rd anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., at Metropolitan AME Zion Church, a mostly black church attended by Bill Clinton on the morning of his two presidential inaugurations. The rally then moved to the Washington Hilton Hotel.
Among those expected before the conference ends today are Children's Defense Fund Founder Marian Wright Edelman; the Rev. John Buehrens, president of Unitarian Universalist Association; and longtime Clinton adviser Paul Begala.
Peter Montgomery, a senior policy analyst with People for the American Way, said participants representing religious and lay activists from 25 states were getting tips on how to organize around such issues as the death penalty and same-sex unions.
The conference comes as debate escalates over Bush administration actions that some see as favoring political and cultural conservatives. Two days after the election, Bush raised the ire of left-wing and pro-abortion groups when he restored a ban on U.S. aid to pro-abortion international groups.
"Religion for the last 20 years has been defined by conservatives," Regas said. "We need to show that religion is more than that."
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