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Supreme Court: Anti-prostitution pledge in AIDS law violates free speech

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“It is the reasonable price of admission to a limited government-spending program that each organization remains free to accept or reject,” he said.

The central issue in the case was whether the government could force participants in a federal program to espouse a certain policy position as a condition of receiving US funding.

“This decision is a victory for human rights,” Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, said in a statement. “The anti-prostitution loyalty oath was based on discrimination against one of the groups most at risk of HIV infection, and had nothing to do with evidence or best practices.”

“This will allow organizations fighting HIV to address the epidemic in the most effective way possible,” Ms. Sippel said.

In passing the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003, Congress found that HIV/AIDS had reached pandemic proportions. More than 65 million individuals had been infected by HIV, and 25 million had died. HIV/AIDS was the fourth largest cause of death worldwide, Congress found.

In sub-Saharan Africa, alone, more than 19 million had died of AIDS, with projections that a quarter of the population would die of AIDS in the next decade.

The Leadership Act was designed to put in place a comprehensive, multi-billion-dollar US response to the unfolding tragedy – including an attempt to address the underlying causes of the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Key in that goal was a strong policy opposing prostitution and sex trafficking. As a result, the law included two conditions:

First it prohibited recipients from using Leadership Act funds to “promote or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution or sex trafficking.”

Second, the law barred any organization from receiving Leadership Act funds “that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.”

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