Diverse Groups Find Consensus in Protecting Free Speech as Anti-Prostitution Pledge Case Heads to Supreme Court
On April 22, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that could have dramatic consequences for NGOs, faith-based groups, and other civil society members. The case, USAID v AOSI, challenges a 2003 law that requires all groups receiving US Government funds for international HIV and AIDS work to have “a policy explicitly opposing prostitution.” The government argues that it has the constitutional authority to go far beyond prescribing what organizations can do with government money—it can tell them what they must say and think even in their privately funded work.
The lower courts in the case found this policy requirement unconstitutional. Now the Supreme Court will decide whether to give the government dramatic new powers—in particular, the ability to force groups to adopt the government’s policy position on any given issue, and gag all private speech the government finds inconsistent with the position. The plaintiffs welcome the Supreme Court’s careful consideration and look forward to a decision sometime in June.
The respondents including Alliance for Open Society International, Pathfinder International, InterAction, and Global Health Council, together represent more than 300 organizations. Ten amicus briefs were submitted in support of the respondents, spanning progressive and conservative voices.
“We took on this case because we believe it is critical to preserve the ability for all organizations to provide a range of life-saving health services without sacrificing the right to free speech. This policy limits our ability to engage with key affected populations in the fight against HIV and AIDS and has broader implications for other health delivery in the future,” Purnima Mane, President and CEO, Pathfinder International, said.
“This rule goes far beyond prescribing what organizations can do with government money—it tells them what they must do, say and think even in their privately funded work,” Zoe Hudson, a senior policy analyst for public health at the Open Society Foundations, said. ”That’s why pro-life and pro-choice groups, faith based groups and health care providers, liberals and conservatives, strongly oppose the government’s position. Requirements like this erode the free speech rights of organizations and destroy the marketplace of ideas on which our democracy rests.”
"This restriction is broader than anything the Supreme Court has ever upheld and infringes on the constitutional right to free speech. It amounts to a dramatic break from the usual conditions imposed upon non-profits that receive federal resources. The diverse group of organizations supporting our argument underscores the importance of this case and its broad implications,” Samuel A. Worthington, president and CEO of InterAction, said.
The respondents appreciate the Supreme Court taking on such an important free speech case.
For more resources on the case, including the amicus briefs, please visit www.pledgechallenge.org.
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