Once again the Senate has pandered to the misguided and hateful zealotry of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) in instructing Senate conferees to agree to House legislation that would permit employers to transfer workers with AIDS out of food-handling jobs.

According to Helen Dewar's June 7 story {"Senate Backs Shift of AIDS Workers"}, Sen. Helms, who introduced the legislation, acknowledges that there is no medical evidence that AIDS can be transmitted by food handling but asserts that the legislation is necessary because restaurants might lose customers who do not want to take any chances. In Sen. Helms's view, it is not truth that matters but public fears and prejudices -- no matter how irrational.

The amazing thing is that Sen. Helms has the gall to make this argument. After all, where does it stop? Should restaurants be able to exclude blacks or Arabs or Jews or whites to cater to public prejudices? How does Sen. Helms draw the distinction among these situations? He doesn't. He is, for reasons that only he knows, on a crusade to deny persons with AIDS whatever comforts and dignities they can find in their all-too-often shattered lives, and it is a national disgrace that he has any success at all in this peculiar mission.

GARY PHILLIPS Washington

It is outrageous that Jesse Helms works so hard to get HIV-infected food handlers transferred from jobs as food service employees -- in the name of public health and the public good -- while supporting every pro-tobacco and pro-assault weapon legislation to come through the Senate.

JEFFREY S. AKMAN Washington