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U.S. Court Reverses Decision on “Antiprostitution Loyalty Oath”

NEW YORK, March 6, 2007—Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a unanimous ruling that the so-called “antiprostitution loyalty oath” does not violate free speech rights. This ruling reverses the earlier decision of the District Court in the case of DKT International vs. the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which found that the oath is an unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment.

The oath requires U.S. nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to explicitly oppose prostitution as a condition of receiving U.S. funds for work on HIV services. EngenderHealth, along with other organizations, supported DKT International’s original lawsuit by filing a statement with the court opposing the pledge.

EngenderHealth argues that the antiprostitution loyalty pledge is a serious infringement of its free speech rights and maintains that the requirement is counterproductive for public health. EngenderHealth and many other U.S. NGOs work in countries that take a wide array of social, cultural, and legal approaches to sex work. Because sex workers are a marginalized and hard-to-reach population, requiring NGOs to comply with the loyalty oath policy may undermine HIV prevention efforts by contributing to the further stigmatization of the very individuals they are trying to reach.

Phillip Harvey, president of DKT International, has issued a statement that the organization will continue to fight the decision. Meanwhile, a similar case filed against the government by Alliance for Open Society International (OSI) and Pathfinder International is scheduled to be argued in April before the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York. A favorable ruling in New York would split the two circuits and could lead to a Supreme Court review.

As the legal battle continues, EngenderHealth will closely monitor the DKT and OSI-Pathfinder cases, consider how we can be helpful to their efforts, and keep our supporters apprised of the latest developments.

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