Two leading participants of the newly formed AIDS Interfaith Council of Southern California said Monday the panel will undoubtedly oppose a Lyndon LaRouche-backed November ballot initiative that would authorize governmental health controls as strict as quarantining and exclusion from certain types of employment.
"The threat of excluding and isolating anyone in our society, so as to make that individual a non-person, is totally repugnant to me," said Rabbi Allen I. Freehling, president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis.
Freehling joined Roman Catholic Archbishop Roger Mahony and several other ecumenical Christian leaders in a press conference announcing that representatives of 15 religious groups had signed a joint statement pledging to pray for victims of AIDS, to "ensure their dignity," to support AIDS research and to "provide accurate information to overcome the misunderstandings fueled by misinformation, fear and bigotry."
Freehling said he believes that the alliance "will speak out in total opposition" to the initiative, which qualified with enough signatures to be submitted to voters in November.
The Rev. Albert Ogle, an Episcopal priest and planning director for the independent AIDS Project Los Angeles, said that the initiative will probably be discussed at next month's meeting of the AIDS Interfaith Council.
"We will certainly come up with a statement by the end of the summer," Ogle said. Ogle substituted for ailing Episcopal Bishop Robert Rusack of Los Angeles at the news conference.
"We're concerned, among other things, that the initiative may inhibit development of important services for AIDS victims," Ogle said. "People may not go for testing; they may go underground and we don't want that."
The initiative, which would redefine the affliction as an infectious disease, was written to bar suspected carriers of acquired immune deficiency syndrome from attending or teaching school or working in restaurants, a spokesman for political extremist LaRouche said last month. The state attorney general's office is preparing an opinion on what the measure's likely effects would be if approved.
The formation of an interfaith council to combat prejudice against AIDS victims was begun by Catholic, Jewish and ecumenical Protestant leaders at a clergy breakfast last March and a one-day conference attended by 200 religious workers in April. Ogle said no invitations went out to evangelical and conservative Protestant churches, but that their participation would not be ruled out in the future.
More than 22,000 cases of AIDS have been documented nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, and Los Angeles County has reported 1,932 cases. The disease has no known cure, and so far has been fatal in about half the reported cases.
Archbishop Mahony, who announced in February that the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese would establish a hospice for AIDS victims, said a suitable location has yet to be found.
"We want to find a place that will not become a lightning rod," Mahony said. Controversy has accompanied the AIDS crisis because the majority of victims have been sexually active male homosexuals.
Mahony said the archdiocese is still considering three sites that it owns, but he has tried to avoid "the institutional look" to the proposed hospice, and has sought a place in a more residential setting.