Supreme Court: NGO Anti-Prostitution Pledge violates freedom of speech

On Friday, June 21, 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled that USAID  vs.  AOSI  violates the First Amendment.  Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the legal opinion, wrote “freedom of speech prohibits the government from telling people what they must say”.

Referred to as the “anti-prostitution pledge”,  the policy stated that in order for any non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to receive federal funds for  HIV/AIDS programming, the NGO had to adopt an organization-wide policy “explicitly” opposing sex work or prostitution. The enforcement of the pledge resulted in U.S. based NGOs limiting services to sex workers, including harm reduction education and the distribution of condoms.

As a member of InterAction, NASW has been actively awaiting the outcome of the court decision.  NASW sees the ‘pledge’ as a direct conflict with the tenets of social work practice.  We commend the Supreme Court for their decision.

Because the United States government remains one of the major funders of the response to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, the 6-2 Supreme Court decision sends a powerful message of support for those committed to ensuring access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services for all persons.


On July 6, 2011, The United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals,  upheld a ruling that the federal government cannot force HIV/AIDS-prevention grant recipients to certify their agreement with the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act’s anti-prostitution statement. Often referred to as the “anti-prostitution pledge,” it reads: ‘No funds made available to carry out this Act may be used to provide assistance to any group or organization that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking, except that this subsection shall not apply to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the World Health Organization, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative or to any United Nations agency.’

In 2011, InterAction, in collaboration with four other organizations, brought suit against the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the federal Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) arguing that the regulation was unconstitutional and violated the First Amendment rights of U.S. based non-profits. NASW is a member of InterAction.

The lawsuit stated that the “pledge” was bad policy, because it restricts agencies from providing HIV/AIDS-related education and services to a particularly vulnerable population. In the NASW Social Work Speaks policy statement on HIV/AIDS, the social work profession specifically calls for the elimination of inequities or obstacles that limit access to education, prevention services, care and treatment; as well as the role of social workers as advocate to improve the quality of life and protect the civil rights of persons living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

InterAction has developed an excellent comprehensive overview of “Agency for International Development, et al vs  Alliance For Open Society International, Inc.”


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