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Judge overturns
Bush administration AIDS funding restriction

Judge overturns
Bush administration AIDS funding restriction

Judge rules requiring groups to sign pledge against sex work is unconstitutional.

U.S. district judge Victor Marrero on Tuesday overturned the Bush administration's policy that requires groups receiving federal funds for overseas AIDS projects to sign declarations opposing sex work, saying the requirement violates groups' First Amendment free-speech rights. Right-wing members of Congress in 2003 passed two laws linked to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief that required any recipient of U.S. funds to publicly oppose sex work and sex trafficking. The Bush administration in June 2005 began requiring all programs seeking PEPFAR funds to sign pledges stating their opposition to the practices.

Overseas AIDS programs, particularly those working in extremely poor nations, protested the requirement, saying that promoting safer sex among sex workers was an important part of their outreach efforts. Other groups worried that they would have to end programs targeting sex workers, even if paid for with separate funds, in order to obtain the U.S. AIDS grants.

The lawsuit against the policy was filed by the Open Society Institute, the Alliance for Open Society International, and Pathfinder International, saying that it wrongly forced AIDS groups to adopt the government's positions and that it weakened overseas HIV prevention initiatives. Marrero overturned the policy, saying that the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently found it is unconstitutional to coerce or compel speech--or an agreement not to speak--as a condition of participating in a government program. He also supported claims by the three groups filing the lawsuit that the Bush administration policy conflicted with their core values of not adopting any policy positions that would lead to the stigmatization of socially marginalized groups.

Marrero's ruling temporarily blocks the Bush administration from continuing to require groups seeking PEPFAR funding to sign the pledge. A similar lawsuit is currently pending in Washington, D.C. It's likely government officials will wait to appeal the New York decision until a ruling is reached in the D.C. case. (The Advocate)

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