ACLU demands Florida Department of Health stop distributing religious AIDS booklet

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com April 05 2003 1:00 AM ET

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida on Thursday demanded that the Florida Department of Health stop distributing a booklet on HIV/AIDS called "A Christian Response to AIDS," which includes quotes from the Bible and images of Jesus, reports the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Sun-Sentinel. The ACLU says the purpose of the brochure is to promote religious doctrine rather than to educate readers about HIV/AIDS. "It's clearly unconstitutional," said ACLU Florida executive director Howard Simon. "It is not permissible for the state to spend a dime endorsing a particular theological point of view."

The ACLU sent a letter to John Agwunobi, secretary of the state health department, and Beth Swisher of the Florida Bureau of AIDS, demanding that the booklet be pulled from the health department's inventory. About 13,500 copies of the booklet were purchased by the health department in 2001 and 2002. Tom Liberti, director of the Florida Bureau of AIDS, said that the department bought the booklets after they were requested by faith-based organizations involved in HIV prevention work. He said he will consult with these various groups before deciding what action to take.

The booklet, first published in 1990, has been distributed in other states and has met criticism from other groups over its Christian-focused theme. The Pennsylvania Department of Health in February removed the booklet from its Web site after Capitolwire, an online state government news service, questioned the appropriateness of the state's distributing religious materials. Officials in Washington, D.C., stopped distributing the booklet two years ago following similar inquiries.