June 20, 2013 at 3:12 PM ET
Charities trying to fight AIDS overseas don’t have to say they oppose prostitution or human trafficking to get federal funds, and the federal government has no right to tell them to, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
The court struck down a George W. Bush-era law that required non-profit groups to sign on to the anti-prostitution policy if they wanted aid money.
“The anti-prostitution pledge was a major barrier for many organizations providing essential health programs and important resources for this population, and we hope that this decision will spur real progress toward ending the epidemic,” said Chris Collins, director of public policy for amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research .
The aid groups argued that sex workers were often the very people they needed to target to take on the deadly and incurable virus.
“According to UNAIDS, sex workers are roughly eight times more likely to be infected with HIV than other adults,” amFAR, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the suit, says in a statement.
“However, targeted efforts to provide HIV prevention services for sex workers have been shown to help bring national epidemics under control. For example, condom promotion efforts helped reduce HIV prevalence among sex workers in Thailand from 33 percent in 1994 to five percent in 2007.”
The Supreme Court voted 6-2 against the policy, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the main opinion.
“The Policy Requirement 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,” Roberts wrote.
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, saying the government has every right to set moral and ethical policies.
“Today the Supreme Court announced a decision that is a victory for human rights and global health,” said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost. “Lifting the ban on the anti-prostitution pledge will get us closer to controlling the AIDS epidemic by providing better access to prevention and treatment services for an underserved population disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS.”
Other groups also welcomed the decision.
“Kudos to the Supreme Court for overturning this counterproductive law that required AIDS and health groups to take an anti-prostitution pledge as a condition of receiving AIDS funding to provide potentially lifesaving care and services to needy and deserving populations,” said Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which provides medical care and services to 200,000 people in 28 countries.
“It is not the job of public health providers like AIDS Healthcare Foundation here or abroad to be judging the people we serve. Health service providers should have a singular concentration on protecting the public health.”