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U.S. Courts Rule Against Mandatory Antiprostitution Pledge

May 19, 2006

Two U.S. federal judges have ruled in separate decisions in the past two weeks that it is unconstitutional for the U.S. government to require American nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to pledge their opposition to prostitution and sex trafficking in order to be eligible for U.S. funds to combat HIV/AIDS in the developing world.

None of the U.S. organizations that filed suit against the “loyalty oath” support prostitution, and none object to the limitation that U.S. funds cannot be used to promote the legalization of prostitution. However, they argued that taking the antiprostitution pledge would not only infringe on their free-speech rights, as the judges have ruled, but would also stigmatize and alienate some groups of women in developing countries who are most at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.

Even if these court rulings are upheld, only U.S. organizations would be freed from complying with this requirement. International NGOs and indigenous groups, which have no constitutional rights under U.S. law, would continue to be subject to this ideological litmus test to determine an organization's suitability as a partner with the United States in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This provision undoubtedly will continue to impede the ability of foreign NGOs to gain the trust of commercial sex workers and their partners, and thus may prevent effective work with this group, which is at particularly high risk for HIV infection.

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