US top court to review free speech of HIV/AIDS groups

(REUTERS) - The United States (US) Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the government can require groups that receive federal funding for overseas HIV/AIDS programmes to have explicit policies that oppose prostitution and sex trafficking.

The requirement that the US Agency for International Development wants enforced was the result of legislation aimed at fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS, but some aid groups argue that it violates their free speech rights.

In a brief order, the Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear an appeal by the Obama administration and various federal agencies to overturn a lower court decision that had voided the requirement, which is contained in the US Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003.

Judge Barrington Parker wrote for a 2-1 panel of the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that the challenged provision improperly "compels recipients to espouse the government's viewpoint." He also said advocacy against prostitution is not central to the fight against HIV and AIDS.

The dissenting judge, Chester Straub, countered that the policy requirement was "entirely rational," and neither imposed a coercive penalty on protected rights nor discriminated as a means to suppress ideas.

In its appeal, the government said the 2nd Circuit decision conflicted directly with a 2007 decision by a federal appeals court in Washington.

The funding recipients, including the Alliance for Open Society International Inc, said the 2nd Circuit decision was correct.

A decision is expected by the end of June.

The case is US Agency for International Development et al v. Alliance for Open Society International Inc et al, US Supreme Court, No. 12-10.

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