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Open Society Says Supreme Court Ruling will Hurt Fight against HIV/AIDS

In a blow to free speech and public health, Alliance for Open Society International condemns the U.S. government’s Anti-Prostitution Pledge as it applies to American organizations’ foreign affiliates, despite a prior ruling that the Pledge itself violates American organizations’ First Amendment rights. This policy requires organizations and their foreign affiliates that receive U.S. government funding to fight HIV internationally to “explicitly oppose prostitution.” 

Alliance for Open Society International, part of the Open Society Foundations, has been involved in a nearly 16-year battle on the constitutionality of the Anti-Prostitution Pledge. This is the second time the Supreme Court considered it, and marks a departure from previous rulings that determined the rule was unconstitutional.

The Anti-Prostitution Pledge demonstrates how the U.S. government plays politics with public health at the expense of organizations that are providing critical HIV services and the vulnerable groups they reach. Now, American organizations and their foreign affiliates must pledge allegiance to the U.S. government’s political goal of eradicating sex work.

In 2013, the Supreme Court defended U.S. organizations’ right to free speech, including the right to speak freely about sex work, declaring the policy requirement unconstitutional.

The Anti-Prostitution Pledge, or “policy requirement,” compels domestic public health organizations and their foreign affiliates to condemn prostitution, regardless of whether they have a position—going far beyond saying how government money must be spent, and forcing organizations to adopt the government’s viewpoint.

“The Supreme Court upheld the U.S. government’s quest to impose its harmful ideological agenda on U.S. organizations and restrict their right to free speech,” said Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations. “The Anti-Prostitution Pledge compromises the fight against HIV by impeding and stigmatizing efforts to deliver health services. Condemnation of marginalized groups is not a public health strategy.”

Research has repeatedly found that moral rejection and criminalization of sex work creates an environment where sex workers are more vulnerable to violence and abuse, and consequently at greater risk of contracting HIV.

These issues are heightened in the context of COVID-19, when sex workers face financial devastation that further contributes to these disproportionate health and safety risks. The Supreme Court’s ruling will prohibit critical organizations from providing services and support to sex workers who are too often left out of—or are antagonized by—government responses to the pandemic.

Open Society Foundations, along with several other organizations, were plaintiffs in the case challenging the Pledge, arguing that it amounted to unconstitutional forced speech. The Pledge also harms collaboration with critical stakeholders in the HIV/AIDS movement, in particular sex workers.

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