Washington, D.C., Government Purchased, Distributed AIDS Pamphlet Containing Religious Messages
District of Columbia civil libertarians yesterday accused the city of "using taxpayer funds to promote religion" by paying for and distributing AIDS pamphlets that cite the Bible 30 times, the Washington Post reports. The 15-page booklet, titled, "A Christian Response to AIDS," carries the legend of the D.C. Health Department's Administration for HIV/AIDS in "bold type" on its covers and was distributed at a recent health fair. According to Wayne Turner, a member of the D.C. chapter of ACT UP, the pamphlets were still available yesterday at the department's headquarters. The AIDS pamphlet advises readers "on nearly every page" to "follow the example of Jesus" and preaches "compassion and love for people with AIDS." While some AIDS advocates "liked the messages" provided in the pamphlet, they disapproved of a government-sponsored AIDS pamphlet that is laced with religious messages. ACT UP Member W. Maxwell Lawton said, "Theologically, the brochure is completely on target. It is excellent and I salute it for that ... But this is a product of the government. Should the government be saying that Jesus is the answer?" Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union's D.C. area chapter, added, "It's outrageously unconstitutional for the District to be spending tax money on this Bible tract."
Health Department Admits 'Error'
D.C. Health Department officials conceded that an "error was made" in ordering the pamphlet, and "another error was made in putting our name on it." Health Department spokesperson Leila Abrar said that all remaining pamphlets "will not be distributed." She said that the department paid $380 for a total of 1,000 pamphlets, noting that "the title was on a publisher's list of brochures covering many public health subjects that the city routinely orders from." The city had originally ordered the pamphlet for a church program five years ago and "distributed copies without receiving complaints" (Montgomery, Washington Post, 2/28).