|Supreme Court to determine rights of HIV/AIDS groups|
|Written by Allie Maher, Senior Staff|
|Monday, 21 January 2013 15:53|
The Supreme Court has agreed to review whether or not the government can restrict funds to HIV/AIDS programs working overseas based on the groups’ viewpoints on prostitution and sex-trafficking.
Organizations, including Alliance for Open Society International Inc. and Pathfinder International, took a governmental policy to the courts as a violation of their First Amendment free speech rights, after initially adopting the government’s anti-prostitution and sex-trafficking viewpoint.
In July 2011, a lower court decision was in favor of voiding the requirement in the U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act of 2003.
The policy says that groups receiving government funds to operate HIV/AIDS prevention and care programs have to publicly stand against prostitution and sex-trafficking.
According to a recent Reuters article, Judge Barrington Parker wrote for the 2-1 panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, saying that the requirement “compels recipients to espouse the government’s viewpoint.”
The dissenting judge, Chester Straub, called the policy “entirely rational” and said that it has no means of suppressing ideas.
The problem underlying the government policy is not the stance that it is taking, but on something called viewpoint discrimination, Meghan Leonard, professor of politics and government, said.
“The interesting part in this case is that it seems like a fairly non-controversial stance – we’re all against sex-trafficking and prostitution,” Leonard said.
Even if the views of the groups are non-controversial and beneficial, the lower courts found that the policy violates the First Amendment through viewpoint discrimination, Leonard added.
The case will be heard in late spring with a decision made by the end of June. Leonard predicts the case will be a fairly straightforward one.
“It seems like a fairly open and shut First Amendment case where the court is going to overturn this part of the law and uphold the First Amendment – but that’s just a guess,” Leonard said.
Though much of the public shares the anti-prostitution and sex-trafficking stance with the government, if the policy is overturned Leonard does not expect public dissent as generally, the public give the court a lot of leeway when it comes to protecting First Amendment rights.
“People understand that no matter how awful whatever it is you’re saying is, ultimately it’s up to the Supreme Court to protect our First Amendment rights,” Leonard said.
“It doesn’t mean that the government is giving funds to pro sex-trafficking groups, it just means that they’re giving funds to groups that haven’t taken the same stance,” Leonard added.
Eight justices will hear the case. Justice Elena Kagan will not participate, as she worked on the case as Solicitor General.