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Supreme Court Defends First Amendment Rights Engaged in the Fight Against AIDS For U.S. Organizations

Today, six justices of the Supreme Court of the United States issued the majority  decision in Agency for International Development, et al. –v- Alliance for Open Society International, Inc. et al., finding that federal agencies mandating that organizations receiving government funding for the global fight against AIDS must hold the same opinion as the United States government to qualify for funding.

Responding  to the escalating pandemics of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, the Congress of the United States passed the “United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act of 2003,” allocating billions of dollars to fund non-governmental organizations around the globe in multi-faceted efforts to increase access to treatment, offer supportive care, train health care workers, accelerate research and reduce at-risk behaviors.   As part of efforts designed to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS, at that time the fourth highest cause of death in the world,  legislators recognized sex trafficking as a factor in the escalation of the disease.

Congress charged the Department of Health and Human Services {HHS} and the United States Agency for International Development {USAID} with responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the 2003 funding Act.  The agencies then developed protocol that required recipient agencies, in effect, to adopt the United States government’s position opposing prostitution and sex trafficking as a policy statement in order to qualify for funding.   Agencies of the United Nations, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the World Health Organization were exempted from the regulation.

The Alliance for an Open Society and others  challenged that requirement based on the first amendment right in the United States guaranteeing freedom of speech and the right to hold opinions and policies at odds with those favored by the government.

“The Supreme Court decision today,” said The Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, Moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches, “represents a victory for all those engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  The issue is not whether any of us who have long worked in this battle are promoting particular behaviors,  but rather our ability to reach those most in need of safe space and compassionate care. “

“The decision today prevents the U.S. government from telling people what they must say in cases where being judgmental may well determine whether individuals most at risk get the help they need in either remaining HIV-negative or managing their health status in a life-affirming way,” added The Rev. Pat Bumgardner, Chair of the Moderator’s Public Policy Team.  “We serve in a movement of faith founded on the teachings of a man who cautioned against judgment,” she added, “and who proclaimed that prostitutes and tax collectors would enter heaven before many others.  Today, at least, they will be free to enter the offices of agencies around the globe who can offer them the information and health care access critical to saving their lives now.”

This statement prepared in conjunction with the Moderator’s Public Policy Team of

Metropolitan Community Churches and the Global Justice Institute.

For more information, contact The Rev. Pat Bumgardner .

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