Victory for Free Speech and Public Health
Today, a Federal Appeals court in New York upheld a case brought by Pathfinder International and Alliance for Open Society International, which challenged a government rule commonly referred to as the "anti-prostitution loyalty oath." Under the rule, recipients of US global HIV and AIDS funds must formally pledge their opposition to prostitution in order to remain eligible for funding. The requirement forces organizations to censor even their privately-funded speech regarding the most effective ways to engage high-risk groups in HIV prevention.
The 2-to-1 ruling by the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, which has twice ruled that the anti-prostitution loyalty oath violates the First Amendment by restricting privately funded speech and forcing organizations to adopt the government's viewpoint. A preliminary injunction has prohibited USAID and the Department of Health and Human Services from enforcing the loyalty oath against the plaintiff organizations, including the US-based members of the Global Health Council and InterAction, who joined the case in 2008.
"Today's victory has profound implications not only for the rights of private, non-governmental organizations to operate without undue government interference, but for the health of vulnerable women, men, and adolescents in less developed countries," Pathfinder President Daniel E. Pellegrom, said. "Any organization that works to address the tragedy of HIV and AIDS must confront head on the need to serve sex workers, but the loyalty oath undermines our efforts by forcing us to stigmatize the very people we are trying to reach."
Pathfinder and Alliance for Open Society International originally brought the case to court in 2005.
Pathfinder commends the court's decision which upholds the rights of organizations to implement evidence-based programs to prevent HIV and AIDS without impediment.
"Pathfinder is committed to continuing to stand up for this right, as well as the health and rights of those we serve," President Pellegrom said. "We believe the court decision should stand, and the US government should take steps to immediately repeal this harmful policy."
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Purnima Mane, president and chief executive officer of Pathfinder International, told IPS, “We are delighted the final set of [proposed] SDGs contains four critical targets on SRHR: three under the health goal and one under the gender goal. But we have not reached the finish line yet. We must all continue to raise our voices to ensure these SRHR targets are intact when the final version is approved."
A video provides a snapshot of Pathfinder International’s Health of People and Environment in Lake Victoria Basin project, an integrated population, health, and environment project supported by MacArthur. The project aims to reduce threats to biodiversity conservation and ecosystem degradation in the Lake Victoria Basin while increasing access to family planning and sexual and reproductive health services.