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SCOTUS Reaffirms Free Speech Rights of Organization Receiving Federal Funds

Posted by Sunny Bjerk , June 27, 2013

SCOTUS Reaffirms Free Speech Rights of Organization Receiving Federal Funds

People waiting to hear result of Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Earlier this year, I discussed a case before the Supreme Court that would decide whether federal grant recipients are required to promote federal policies on prostitution and sex trafficking in order to retain funding.

The plaintiff, the Alliance for Open Society International, argued that this “compelled speech” would infringe on their ability to conduct outreach and serve sex workers overseas if they feel they will be turned away or arrested. Amid the fervor over the then-pending DOMA decision, this case was lost in the shuffle, but last week the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot restrict an organization’s right to free speech just because they receive federal funding.

In the case, titled Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, the Supreme Court rejected the government’s arguments and highlighted a critical difference between guidelines for how funds are used and using the funds as leverage to force the organizations to echo government policies on prostitution and sex-trafficking. Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote for the majority, argued that this requirement effectively infringed on the organization’s right to free speech.

The Alliance for Open Society was represented by Steven Shapiro the ACLU, who stated, “The price of obtaining a government grant should not be the loss of First Amendment rights.”

The Supreme Court affirmed in a 6-2 decision—with Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, and Sotomayor in the majority, and Justices Scalia and Thomas dissenting. Justice Kagan did not take part in deciding this case.

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