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Does the U.S. government have the right to set conditions—say, requiring recipients of public funds to denounce prostitution and sex trafficking—before it gives money to groups that combat sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS?
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide the issue later this year, but the question is why must American taxpayers fund this legal battle in the first place? It involves a provision that requires private health organizations, mostly overseas, to have explicit policies that oppose prostitution and sex trafficking before getting AIDS funding from Uncle Sam.
Each year, the U.S. government spends billions of dollars to help people in this country and around the world who are living with AIDS. In 2003 Congress passed legislation requiring groups seeking federal money to publicly announce that they oppose prostitution and sex trafficking because they are serious factors in the spread of the deadly virus. It’s not uncommon for the government to attach conditions like this before doling out federal funds.
But a handful of organizations that get U.S. money and work in South America, Africa and Asia challenged the law in court, claiming that the anti-prostitution mandate violates their constitutional right to free speech. It also compromises their institutional integrity, interferes with prevention outreach to sex workers and takes a toll on their international credibility, they claim in court documents.
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