Appellate court finds “Prostitution Pledge” violates First Amendment

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a ruling today striking a provision of a federal statute that denies funding to any AIDS organization “that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.”  The U.S. government had required that organizations seeking government funds publicly announce their opposition to prostitution and sex trafficking.

The U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 authorizes the billions of dollars of U.S. aid that combats global AIDS, TB and malaria, including the Global Fund and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The majority opinion in today’s ruling contends that the provision regarding prostitution and sex trafficking is unconstitutional because, “compelling speech as a condition of receiving a government benefit cannot be squared with the First Amendment.” The ruling upheld a lower court decision from three years ago, that found in favor of three organizations that sued the U.S. government in 2005.

Wednesday’s 2-1 ruling divided the three-judge panel, and Reuters reported that the dissenting judge urged the Supreme Court to decide the issue.

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