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Second judge
rules against Bush administration AIDS funding rule

Second judge
rules against Bush administration AIDS funding rule

Judge rules antiprostitution pledge is unconstitutional

A U.S. district judge in Washington, D.C., on Thursday ruled that the Bush administration's policy of forcing recipients of U.S. AIDS funds to sign declarations opposing sex work violates the groups' First Amendment free speech rights, The Washington Post reports. A federal judge in New York last week also rejected the policy on the same legal grounds.

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.

U.S.-based AIDS organizations operating overseas 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 federal AIDS grants.

DKT International, a not-for-profit organization that provides family planning services in 11 countries, sued USAID over the policy in Washington, D.C., district court. DKT officials said they would not sign the pledge because the group distributes condoms to sex workers in Vietnam, which it considers a key HIV prevention initiative in the country. The Open Society Institute, the Alliance for Open Society International, and Pathfinder International filed suit against the policy in New York district court.

Federal judge Emmet Sullivan on Thursday ruled against the Bush administration in the DKT lawsuit, saying the requirement "casts too wide a net and is not narrowly tailored." He also ruled that the requirement forces organizations to "parrot the government's policies," which in effect strips them of their First Amendment free speech rights. "By mandating that DKT adopt an organizational-wide policy against prostitution, the government exceeds its ability to limit the use of government funds," Sullivan wrote. (The Advocate)

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