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Opinion Pieces, Editorials Address Supreme Court Ruling On Anti-Prostitution Pledge

“In a ruling [.pdf] backing robust free speech rights for recipients of government funds, the Supreme Court on Thursday struck down as unconstitutional the federal government’s requirement that groups accepting U.S. aid declare their opposition to prostitution,” according to Politico, which notes, “In a 6-2 decision, the justices found a 2003 law violated the First Amendment by demanding that groups receiving funding to fight HIV, AIDS and certain other diseases affirmatively reject prostitution” (Gerstein, 6/21). The following is a summary of opinion pieces and editorials addressing the ruling.

  • Lindsay Coates, Huffington Post’s “Impact” blog: “The Supreme Court’s decision was a resounding affirmation of the freedom of civil society organizations to express their views, even as they work alongside government in addressing the toughest global challenges,” Coates, executive vice president of InterAction, writes. “The fact that the ruling was so broad-based reflects the wide-ranging support we got for our case in general,” she continues, adding, “We are gratified that the Supreme Court upheld the lower courts’ decisions that this U.S. government policy requirement is unconstitutional. We’re also looking forward to continuing our partnership with the U.S. government to save lives and ultimately end up with the AIDS-free world which John Kerry so eloquently spoke about just [Wednesday]” (6/20).
  • Amy Davidson, New Yorker’s “Closed Read” blog: “In a 6-2 opinion written by John Roberts, the Chief Justice, the Court ruled that groups receiving money to fight the spread of AIDS cannot be required to make certain statements about prostitution,” Davidson, a senior editor at the magazine, writes. “Justice Scalia, in his dissent, said that the government had every right to ask for a pledge — that it was no more intrusive than a decision not to turn over tax money to shady characters like Hamas or ‘cigar aficionados,'” she notes, adding, “But such a pledge does much more. It would leave no room for silence — silence that did not affect the job that the groups were meant to do (a key point for the Court).”
  • Gabriel Grand, PolicyMic: Grand, an editorial intern for PolicyMic, recounts the history of the case and writes, “The Court’s ruling creates a potentially dangerous precedent for the government. It places limits on the extent to which the government can advance its own agenda and political views through the appropriation of federal funding.” He adds, “While it seems unlikely that the removal of the Leadership Act’s restrictions on NGOs will actually help to fight HIV/AIDS, we can rest assured that the integrity of the Constitution remains intact” (6/20).
  • Elias Groll, Foreign Policy’s “Passport” blog: Noting the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that brought the suit argued “that a law requiring them to oppose prostitution would make it more difficult to reach sex workers, a population particularly at risk for HIV/AIDS,” Groll, an editorial assistant at Foreign Policy, “raises a question: How have the restrictions baked into PEPFAR affected the ability of aid groups to reach sex workers and carry out the federal program’s larger mission?” He highlights “the most comprehensive examination of PEPFAR,” in which “a 2013 independent advisory panel found that the program has seen a great deal of success,” and writes, “PEPFAR’s restrictions may hinder its ability to reach out to sex workers, but the program does deserve some credit for distributing funds fairly effectively” (6/20).
  • Los Angeles Times: The editorial gives an overview of the case and writes, “As Roberts conceded, it is sometimes difficult for courts to draw the line between ‘conditions that define the federal program and those that reach outside it.’ But here, Congress went beyond setting rules for how government funds are spent to try to force recipients to renounce their right to free speech. The court was right to rein it in” (6/21).
  • New York Times: “The Supreme Court on Thursday imposed an important limit on how far the government can go in controlling the speech of a group that takes government money,” the newspaper writes. “Chief Justice Roberts, quoting from a 1943 opinion barring the government from requiring public school children 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,'” the editorial continues, adding, “That principle guided the court to the right result in this case” (6/20).