Florida Urged to Withdraw AIDS Leaflet Invoking Jesus
April 4, 2003
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is asking the Florida Department of Health to recall an AIDS information brochure that includes biblical references and tells people to "answer Jesus' call" by reaching out to people with HIV/AIDS.Adapted from:
"A Christian Response to AIDS," which carries the department's logo, includes Scripture quotations and images of Jesus healing the sick. The ACLU said the brochure was inappropriate for distribution by a public health agency and should be immediately recalled. The same brochure was recently distributed in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., but was removed because of similar complaints.
The ACLU sent a letter Thursday to Dr. John O. Agwunobi, secretary of the Florida Department of Health, and Beth Swisher, of the Bureau of HIV, outlining its concerns and requesting that the brochure be recalled.
A Bureau of HIV spokesperson said the agency had paid for and distributed the brochure and was reviewing it after having received the ACLU complaint. "I believe most people using it are minority, community faith-based organizations trying to reach out to people in our state," said Bureau of HIV chief Tom Liberti. "We're going to take a look at it for the next 7 to 10 days and make a decision. We'll look at the information on the letter and decide whether it should be removed from our approved list."
Liberti said that he did not know how the department decided to endorse the brochure but that it was probably the result of a request by a religious organization. The information in the pamphlet was, however, approved by a department review panel before it was distributed, he said.
ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said a document his office obtained from the state showed that the Health Department bought 13,482 brochures for $4,500 and distributed them from January 2000 to April 2001. "There is no hostility here toward the content of this pamphlet," Simon said, adding that "not everything that can be circulated by churches is appropriate or constitutionally permitted to be purchased and circulated by governments." He also noted the brochure excludes people of other faiths.
New York Times
04.04.03; Dana Canedy