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Editorials, Opinion Pieces Address Supreme Court’s Ruling Striking Down Anti-Prostitution Pledge

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down as unconstitutional the federal government’s requirement that groups accepting U.S. aid declare their opposition to prostitution. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion (.pdf), with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissenting, and Justice Elena Kagan was recused. The following editorials and opinion pieces address the ruling.

  • Denver Post: The ruling “sets important limits on government power,” the editorial states, continuing, “Had the ruling in this case gone the other way, it’s conceivable all manner of requirements might be imposed on those seeking support in the future. We’re glad the court saw the importance of drawing this line in the sand.” The editorial adds, “In the opinion, supported by six justices, the court said the government may attach conditions to the way money is spent, but cannot require groups to ‘pledge allegiance’ to the federal government’s view that prostitution ought to be eradicated.” The Denver Post concludes, “These groups shouldn’t have to give up their constitutional rights in order to get support to help people who desperately need it” (6/23).
  • New York Times: “By requiring recipients to advocate the government’s position, without the option of staying silent, the court said this policy could hurt outreach programs by undermining trust with sex workers, who may avoid seeking help from groups with a declared anti-prostitution agenda,” the editorial writes, adding, “This ruling does not limit the government’s power to specify the kind of activities it wants to subsidize.” The editorial concludes, “Chief Justice Roberts, quoting from a 1943 opinion barring the government from requiring public schoolchildren to salute the flag, noted: ‘If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’ That principle guided the court to the right result in this case” (6/20).
  • Leo Beletsky, Huffington Post’s “Politics” blog: “Non-U.S. organizations are not covered by the First Amendment protections, so unless there is an executive decision or legislative reform to lift the pledge requirement in the international context, the anti-prostitution pledge still stands in that context,” Beletsky, assistant professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University, writes. In addition, “the … litigation never challenged the closely related Leadership Act clause mandating that no funds ‘may be used to promote or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution,'” he writes, adding, “Although likely constitutional, this clause may be as counterproductive in public health terms as the now defunct ‘pledge’ requirement.” He concludes, “Now is the time to galvanize the momentum from the Supreme Court ruling to force a re-examination of these outdated and misguided provisions in light of public health science rather than political expediency” (6/21).
  • Lenora Lapidus, Huffington Post’s “Politics” blog: The ACLU filed an amicus brief in which “we argued [the pledge] unconstitutionally imposed the government’s opinion on private organizations,” Lapidus, director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, writes. “The government argued that it could place conditions on funding without violating First Amendment rights because non-governmental organizations were free to reject federal funding and adopt any stance on prostitution that they wished, or work through an affiliate,” she notes, adding, “[T]he Supreme Court rejected the government’s arguments, recognizing a critical distinction between restricting the use of federal funds to define the scope of a program, which is constitutional, and using federal funds to coerce grant recipients into adopting a particular ideological viewpoint that is separate from its use of those funds, which is not.” She concludes, “Today, we celebrate the Court’s reaffirmation of the First Amendment and its rejection of Congress’s attempt to dictate the content of free speech” (6/21).