Jerry Falwell has sued the White House and the FBI for denying a request for information about him that he contends is kept in a "secret" Justice Department database about religious and antiabortion leaders.

The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court, contends the database is used to keep information intended for use in smear tactics. Falwell sought the information last summer under the Freedom of Information Act after being told of the alleged database by Judicial Watch, a conservative Washington group.

Falwell contends that keeping information about him in the database is a violation of the Privacy Act, which makes it illegal for the government to keep a file on a person without a lawful reason.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Falwell and several organizations he founded or has affiliations with, including Liberty University, the Moral Majority and the Old-Time Gospel Hour.

"All of this is to see if any of my father's organizations are in the database," Jerry Falwell Jr., who serves as the senior Falwell's attorney, said Monday.

The FBI and the White House, in documents filed with Falwell's lawsuit, have questioned the existence of the database.

In a letter, Meredith E. Cabe, an associate counsel to President Clinton, wrote, "FOIA does not establish a statutory right to the records Dr. Falwell has requested from the White House, if such records exist."

Likewise, the FBI's response said a search of its automated records to 1958 found no information relevant to Falwell's request.