SUPREME COURT: The US Can't Bully AIDS Groups Into Opposing Prostitution

ProstitutionA prostitute wearing a mask holds a placard as she attends a demonstration with sex workers activists against a proposition to abolish prostitution in Lyon July 6, 2012.

The Supreme Court has struck down a government policy forcing HIV/AIDS groups to have policies opposing sex trafficking and prostitution to get federal money to combat those diseases overseas.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion finding the policy violated the right to free speech because it didn’t have anything to do with the programs being funded.

“By demanding that funding recipients adopt — as their own — the government’s view on the issue of public concern, the condition by its very nature affects ‘protected conduct outside the scope of the federally funded program,'” Roberts writes, siding with a group of U.S. nonprofits fighting AIDS overseas.

Justice Samuel Alito, who joined forces with Roberts and the liberals, said during oral arguments in April that it’s a “dangerous proposition” for the government to force groups to agree with it to get funding.

The case involves the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Turbuculosis, and Malaria Act, which sets aside billions of dollars for nonprofits that work to treat and prevent those diseases.

That Act comes with two conditions. 1) The money can’t be used to promote prostitution or sex trafficking. 2) The money can’t go to nonprofits that don’t have policies that specifically oppose those two things.

The U.S. government says the second condition is necessary because federal funds for AIDS/HIV could free up other money to promote sex trafficking or prostitution. But Roberts wrote there’s no evidence to support the government’s idea that government funding simply supplants private money instead of funding new programs or expanding existing ones.

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