Supreme Court finds that AIDS/HIV relief anti-prostitution rules violate First Amendment

By David Ferguson
Thursday, June 20, 2013 13:09 EDT
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John Roberts via AFP
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The U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision on Thursday that said the federal government cannot withhold grant money from anti-HIV/AIDS groups if they do not explicitly declare themselves to be anti-prostitution. The New York Times said that the decision, which can be read in full here, arose from a challenge to a 2003 law that required groups receiving anti-AIDS money to have “a policy explicitly opposing prostitution.”

Chief Justice John Roberts, who ruled with the six-justice majority, wrote the decision in United States Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International. The Court ruled that the government cannot compel private agencies accepting federal money to “pledge allegiance to the government’s policy of eradicating prostitution.” The First Amendment, he wrote, bars the attachment of ideological conditions to federal grants.

Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented, with Scalia writing in the dissenting opinion that “The First Amendment does not mandate a viewpoint-neutral government.” Justice Kagan recused herself from the case, presumably, said the Times, because she worked on it as U.S. solicitor general.

In 2003, Congress passed the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act, a federal law that mandated the allocation of billions of dollars of funding to international relief organizations.

According to the Roberts decision, “The Act imposes two related conditions: (1) No funds
‘may be used to promote or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution,’ §7631(e); and (2) no funds may be used by an organization ‘that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution,’ §7631(f).”

The conditions were found to be unconstitutional in that the government may not place conditions on money it grants to people and groups if it infringes on the recipients’ constitutional rights. The 2003 law, the Court found Thursday, “violates the First Amendment by compelling as a condition of federal funding the affirmation of a belief that by its nature cannot be confined within the scope of the Government program.”

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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