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Supreme Court To Weigh In On First Amendment Case Made By HIV and AIDS Prevention Workers

Apr 10, 2013 12:46 PM EDT

HIV and AIDS prevention groups are once again at arms with one another as the Supreme Court prepares to consider whether the requirement that organizations receiving government funding for such work take an open stance against prostitution, is in fact constitutional.

While the law was passed in 2003, it has not been enforced since a 2006 injunction.

"The split is about whether you support the sex industry," Norma Ramos of the Coalition Against Trafficking Women told Reuters. Given that "prostitution is the end point of sex trafficking," she explained that there cannot be a separation between the two, especially when it comes to public health efforts.

Punima Mane, the president and CEO of Pathfinder, disagrees, calling such an accusation a "gross misinterpretation," according to the same article.

"We would not want to condemn the groups we work for," she said, explaining that if funding were cut off, so would be "life-saving health services" to a vulnerable group of women.

For this reason, the group, along with the Alliance for Open Society International, sued the government in 2005 on the basis that their First Amendment rights prevented them from having to take a stance on prostitution.

They have since been joined by the Global Health Council and InterAction, both of whom work in developing countries. According to court reports, the later has received a total of $1 billion annually in U.S. funding.

Among those who have shown open support for the plaintiffs is the United Nations branch charged with overseeing anti-AIDS/HIV action, called UNAIDS. In a brief the group filed it states that such programs "work best when they involved, and do not stigmatize, the affected populations."

On the other hand, the Obama administration has maintained, as stated in court papers, that there is no First Amendment violation because the groups are given the "voluntary choice" of whether to participate in the program.

In all, the U.S. government has spent a total of $63 billion since 2003 in funding to both government and non-government organizations engaged in fighting the spread of the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

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