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Federal judge: overseas HIV/AIDS funding cannot require anti-prostitution pledge

[JURIST] The federal government is violating First Amendment free speech rights by withholding federal HIV/AIDS funding from human rights groups working abroad who refuse to sign a pledge condemning prostitution, according to an opinion [PDF text] released Tuesday by a New York federal judge. US District Court Judge Victor Marrero said that the US Supreme Court has "repeatedly found that speech, or an agreement not to speak, cannot be compelled or coerced as a condition of participation in a government program."

The case arose from a challenge brought by several US-based human rights groups fighting HIV and AIDS abroad against a 2003 bill [OLPA materials] that conditioned federal funding on the receipt of a "pledge requirement" that prevented the groups from treating human sex workers with the disease, or from speaking about the issue. Defendants included the United States Agency for International Development [official website], which argued that the pledge requirement would encourage people to avoid sex workers. The plaintiffs were represented [press release] by the Brennan Center for Justice [academic website] at NYU School of Law. AP has more.

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