Congressmen urge Supreme Court to review anti-prostitution pledge

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Rep. Chris Smith.

Twenty-four members of the U.S. House of Representatives called for the Supreme Court to hear a case on banning funds for groups that promote the legalization or practice of prostitution and sex trafficking.

“The U.S. Justice Department should immediately petition the U.S. Supreme Court” to review a challenged funding prohibition in the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, said Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) in an April 27 statement.

He explained that the law in question “prevents international groups that promote and enable prostitution and sex trafficking from receiving HIV/AIDS funding.”

Smith, who authored the funding prohibition, has a long history of championing anti-trafficking efforts.  

In addition to sponsoring the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act, he also serves as the co-chairman of the Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus.

Several public health groups have brought a legal challenge against the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) over its anti-prostitution funding restriction.

The federal law requires groups that receive money under the 2003 Leadership Act to sign a pledge stating their opposition to both sex trafficking and prostitution.

Although the Alliance for Open Society International initially signed the pledge, it later sued USAID, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September 2005.

It was joined in the lawsuit by the Open Society Institute, Pathfinder International, the Global Health Council and InterAction.

The groups all object to the pledge requirement, saying that it would force them to adopt the government’s viewpoint.

They argued that restricting funding to organizations that oppose prostitution and sex trafficking amounts to an infringement of free speech.

A U.S. Court of Appeals panel sided with the health groups, ruling that the pledge requirement violates their right to free speech.

While USAID requested a rehearing before all the judges of the court, rather than just the panel, the request was denied.

The government is currently unable to enforce the pledge requirement due to a court injunction.

In an April 20 letter, two dozen Congressmen asked U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

The deadline to file the petition with the court is May 2.

The representatives noted that the panel’s decision is contrary to a 2007 ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rather than coercively penalizing or suppressing free speech, the pledge requirement is a rational use of Congress’ spending powers, they argued.

It is “imperative” that the prohibition on funding “organizations or groups that support prostitution and sex trafficking be upheld in all jurisdictions,” the Congressmen said.

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