September 15, 2010

Policy Hinders Free Speech And Practices For HIV/AIDS Groups Working With Vulnerable Populations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) filed a friend of the court brief today in a case challenging a government policy that requires private organizations that receive federal funding for HIV/AIDS prevention to explicitly state that they oppose prostitution and sex trafficking. The ACLU is challenging this policy on the grounds that it restricts the free speech rights of private organizations and poses significant obstacles to groups working with vulnerable populations to contain the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

"The government cannot dictate any and all speech of private organizations simply because some of the organization's projects receive federal funding," said Mie Lewis, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "This policy not only hamstrings free speech rights, but also alienates high-risk populations – namely sex workers – who are on the front lines of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The government should stop playing politics with free speech and global health."

The policy is a component of the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act, and restricts the speech of both U.S. and foreign nongovernmental organizations working overseas. The law applies to any organization receiving federal funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and education regardless of the organization's mission, including those whose work is completely unrelated to sex workers or the sex sector. As a result of the policy, global health groups have dramatically cut back outreach, education and empowerment services to sex workers for fear of being perceived as supporting prostitution.

"Private organizations should not be forced to choose between accepting U.S. funding and adopting a policy that alienates and stigmatizes many high-risk communities," said Alexis Karteron, staff attorney with the NYCLU. "Rather than advancing efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, this policy is actually making things worse by preventing organizations from reaching those who need their care and support the most."

The case, AOSI vs. USAID, was originally filed in 2005. Enforcement of the policy was enjoined by a district court, and a second injunction was issued on remand after appeal. The case is again being appealed by the government.

The amicus brief can be viewed at: www.aclu.org/hiv-aids-womens-rights/aosi-vs-usaid-aclu-amicus-brief

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