By David Montgomery
Wednesday, February 28, 2001; Page B01 An AIDS pamphlet paid for and distributed by the D.C. government advises readers that "Jesus is our hope!" and cites the Bible 30 times, prompting AIDS activists and civil libertarians yesterday to accuse the city of using taxpayer funds to promote religion. The 15-page booklet, "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. It was handed out during a recent health fair and was still available Monday at the headquarters of the HIV/AIDS Administration, 717 14th St. NW, said Wayne Turner, a member of the D.C. chapter of ACT UP, an AIDS activist group. "It's outrageously unconstitutional for the District to be spending tax money on this Bible tract," said Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the area chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Spitzer said he plans to contact city officials and tell them "what we think and tell them we expect them to cease and desist." Health Department officials may save him the trouble. "An error was made in ordering it, and another error was made in putting our name on it," Leila Abrar, a spokeswoman for the Health Department, said yesterday. "Whatever [remaining pamphlets] we have will not be distributed." Abrar said the department spent $380 for 1,000 copies of the pamphlet. She said the title was on a publisher's list of brochures covering many public health subjects that the city routinely orders from. The city first ordered "A Christian Response to AIDS" for a church program five years ago and distributed copies without receiving complaints. Abrar said it may have been an error to use public funds to purchase the pamphlet back then. The pamphlet, which encourages readers on nearly every page to follow the example of Jesus, preaches compassion and love for people with AIDS. It urges readers to write letters to their government in support of "anti-discrimination laws, more funding for AIDS treatments" -- advice that ACT UP does not dispute. Turner and W. Maxwell Lawton, an artist and ACT UP member who described himself as a Christian who advises churches on AIDS issues, said they liked the message but not the idea that the government sponsored it. "Theologically, the brochure is completely on target," said Lawton, who has a master's degree in theology. "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?" Turner said, "If a church itself was producing and distributing this kind of material, that's great. And I would like to see synagogues do something similar, and mosques, and all denominations." The brochure is published by Channing L. Bete Co. of South Deerfield, Mass., a communications firm that specializes in reducing complex issues to simple messages, according to Kelly Dwight, associate director of marketing, research and product development. Dwight said the company developed the brochure in 1990 in response to religious and public health officials who wanted AIDS information that could be handed out in churches. She said she did not know whether any other city government has purchased the brochure. Turner and Lawton said they were troubled that people of other faiths are not addressed by the pamphlet, but they said having the city offer pamphlets for other religions is not a solution. Spitzer agreed. "The government is supposed to stay separate from religion," he said.