[Svrilist] U.S. Policy Requiring Overseas HIV/AIDS Groups To Condemn Commercial Sex Work Violates Free Speech, District Judge Rules

svrilist at mrc.ac.za svrilist at mrc.ac.za
Mon May 15 10:00:49 SAST 2006

In The Courts | U.S. Policy Requiring Overseas HIV/AIDS Groups To Condemn
Commercial Sex Work Violates Free Speech, District Judge Rules
[May 10, 2006]

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero on Tuesday in New York ruled that a
U.S. policy requiring recipients of federal HIV/AIDS service grants to
pledge to oppose commercial sex work violates the groups' First Amendment
right to free speech, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports (Neumeister,
AP/Long Island Newsday, 5/10). The Bush administration in June 2005
notified U.S. organizations providing HIV/AIDS-related services in other
countries that they must sign the pledge to be considered for federal
funding. The policy stems from two 2003 laws, including an amendment to
legislation (HR 1298) authorizing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS
Relief that prohibits funds from going to any group or organization that
does not have a policy "explicitly opposing prostitution and sex
trafficking." The Open Society Institute, the Alliance for Open Society
International and Pathfinder International last year filed the lawsuit
against USAID over the policy. OSI has said the policy "weakens efforts to
provide lifesaving services and information to sex workers" and is
unconstitutional because it is vague and requires private organizations to
adopt the government's position. Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Rosberger
argued that the 2003 law mandating the pledge did not contain any
provision intended to deter HIV/AIDS treatment efforts, including those
for commercial sex workers (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/18).

Marrero on Tuesday said the U.S. 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" (AP/Long Island
Newsday, 5/10). Marrero in his opinion said that AOSI, OSI and Pathfinder
"allege that adopting a policy opposing prostitution violates" their
principles of governance, including opposition to "adopting any policy
positions that would lead to the stigmatization of socially marginalized
groups." Marrero ruled that the U.S. policy "impermissibly discriminates
based on viewpoint and compels speech, [and] it also violates the First
Amendment." He added, "Given these circumstances, the court finds that
plaintiffs have made the necessary showing of irreparable harm" (Marrero,
opinion, 5/9). Marrero's ruling temporarily blocks the government from
continuing the policy. A similar lawsuit currently is pending in
Washington, D.C., the AP/Newsday reports.

Lawyer Rebekah Diller, who represented the groups, said, "It's really a
tremendous victory for public health," adding, "It will enable these
organizations to serve very vulnerable women" (AP/Long Island Newsday,
5/10). "We're delighted that the court recognized the pledge requirement
as unconstitutional and overreaching," Ricardo Castro, a board member of
AOSI, said, adding that the policy "hampers organizations on the front
lines of the AIDS epidemic working to save lives through proven prevention
methods" (Ascribe, 5/9). Megan Gaffney, spokesperson for the U.S.
Attorney's Office in Manhattan, declined to comment on the ruling (AP/Long
Island Newsday, 5/10).

More information about the Svrilist mailing list