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Anti-Prostitution Rule Violates Speech Rights, Court Says

The U.S. Supreme Court bolstered the speech rights of federal grant recipients, ruling that groups receiving money for overseas anti-HIV and AIDS programs can’t be required to take a stance against prostitution.

The justices, voting 6-2, today rejected Obama administration contentions that the restriction was a legitimate condition on the use of federal funds.

“The policy requirement goes beyond preventing recipients from using private funds in a way that would undermine the federal program,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. “It requires them to pledge allegiance to the government’s policy of eradicating prostitution.”

The dispute centered on a provision in a 2003 law that increased U.S. efforts against infectious diseases around the world. Congress has authorized spending of more than $60 billion under the program.

Groups including Pathfinder International and InterAction challenged the provision, arguing that their work in disease-ravaged countries in Africa and Asia would be compromised if they adopted anti-prostitution policies. The organizations say they work with prostitutes to educate them about HIV and AIDS and to encourage prevention.

The Obama administration contended the provision, which also requires recipients to oppose sex trafficking, is designed to reduce behavior that fosters the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Scalia Dissent

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented. The requirement “is nothing more than a means of selecting suitable agents to implement the government’s chosen strategy to eradicate HIV/AIDS,” Scalia wrote.

The Supreme Court has said Congress generally can place conditions on the receipt of federal funds. The majority today ruled that Congress went too far by trying to control private speech beyond the scope of the government program. The ruling upholds a federal appeals court decision.

The disputed provision exempted some groups, including the World Health Organization and any United Nations agency.

The case is U.S. Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society, 12-10.

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