In a victory for international HIV/AIDS prevention work, two federal courts have ruled that the US government’s requirement that US groups condemn prostitution in order to receive US funds is a violation of the First Amendment. Groups were outraged at the requirement, as it prevented them from effectively working with prostitutes to curb HIV/AIDS infections, even when they use their own private funds to do so.
Federal Courts of Appeals in New York and Washington, DC both ruled that the requirement, which the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has enforced since 2005, was a violation of the right to free speech. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, of the DC court, ruled last week that the regulation forced organizations to “parrot the government’s policies,” reports the Washington Post. The case heard by this court was brought by DKT International, which works on international AIDS prevention, last summer. Kaiser Network reports that Julie Carpenter, who worked on the DKT case, praised the ruling for its message that the federal government “can’t use its spending power to constrain private speech.”
The New York ruling came a week earlier, in a case brought by the Open Society Institute, the Alliance for Open Society International (AOSI) and Pathfinder International. Judge Victor Marrero wrote that “The Supreme Court has repeatedly found that speech, or an agreement not to speak, cannot be compelled or coerced as a condition of participation in a government program,” and made a preliminary injunction on the policy as it applies to AOSI and Pathfinder. Daniel Pellegrom, executive director of Pathfinder, said in a statement that the decision “enables Pathfinder to continue serving the most vulnerable women in many of the world’s poorest nations without impediment.”