The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-2 Thursday the government cannot force a private
group to disavow prostitution or forfeit federal funds.
The majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts said the policy violates the First Amendment's free speech guarantee. Justice Elena Kagan took no part in the case, but did not explain why.
The United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act of 2003 authorizes billions of dollars to fund non-governmental organizations to fight HIV/AIDS worldwide.
But the act requires that none of the funds "may be used to promote or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution" or be used by an organization "that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution."
HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus, the cause of AIDS.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Agency for International Development require funding recipients to agree in their award documents that they oppose prostitution
The Alliance for Open Society International Inc. supports education, public health and human rights, particularly in Central Asia. Though the group applied for the funds, the agency wanted to remain neutral on prostitution and challenged the funding policy in federal court in New York.
A federal judge issued an injunction against the policy and an appeals court agreed.
The U.S. Supreme Court also agreed. Roberts' opinion said the policy 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."
Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, dissented.
"This policy requirement is nothing more than a means of selecting suitable agents to implement the government's chosen strategy to eradicate HIV/AIDS," Scalia said. "That is perfectly permissible under the Constitution."
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