George W. Bush's Awful "Anti-Prostitution Oath" Is Unconstitutional


Man, the Supreme Court wants to go on summer vacay so bad! All it wants to do is head to the cabin upstate, chill at the lake, and make out with its boyfriend (he’s from Canada, you don’t know him), but Dad is being a total knob about driving privileges. “No driving until you finish all your opinions from last term blah blah blah.” Whatever, dad!

While we wait to hear how SCOTUS will rule on the potentially life-altering affirmative action and gay marriage cases, the Court has been busy handing down other major decisions that, in any other year, would have been considered historic. For example! Yesterday, the Court held that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work to reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS no longer have to pledge an “anti-prostitution oath” in order to received federal funds to fight the disease overseas. This is huge!

The “anti-prostitution oath” was the brainchild of former President George W. Bush, noted maniacal boy-king and evangelical crusader monster. The oath requires NGOs to implement a policy “explicitly opposing prostitution and sex-trafficking” before it can receive federal money to fight HIV and AIDS. Unsurprisingly, the oath requirement effectively constructed major barriers between NGOs and the communities they were trying to help. (All while benefiting abstinence-only organizations spread their message internationally.) Here is a no-duh fact: when it comes to preventing HIV and AIDS, it’s kinda important for NGOs to work with high-risk communities—e.g. prostitutes and victims of sex trafficking. It’s understandable that members of these marginalized groups may have been wary of accepting services from an organization that was forced to hop on board the George W. Bush stinky eyeball judgment train. Without that trust, many NGOs felt stymied in their efforts to provide life-saving preventive services to sex workers and other marginalized groups.

That’s why SCOTUS’s decision is so important—it derails the judgment train once and for all. The majority opinion, penned by Chief Justice Roberts, focused primarily on whether or not the government’s oath requirement violated the First Amendment. Ultimately, the Court held that the government could not compel NGOs to espouse a belief that they did not hold. (Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion just before beheading his foes with an all-powerful scimitar and fleeing to his cremation grounds.)

Many NGOs, including the ones who brought this lawsuit in the first place, prefer to remain neutral on prostitution and sex trafficking as a matter of policy, so they can do their work without being forced to promote certain values. But an NGO could not remain neutral to satisfy the oath—they had to actually draft an express anti-prostitution policy. Naturally, this requirement kept a number of deserving NGOs from receiving federal funds, and it creepily gave the federal government the power to dictate the speech of private groups. The Court decided that really wasn’t cool, and that the anti-prostitution oath violated the First Amendment.

The ruling in this case is great news for those NGOs that want to spend less time moralizing and more time fighting HIV and AIDS. It will allow them the opportunity to reach out to sex workers who need services without fear of losing their funding, which is a great step towards preventing the further spread of disease. Somebody get these freedom fighters a big old “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” banner.

Meagan Hatcher-Mays is a recent graduate of Washington University Law School in Saint Louis. She does a significant amount of yelling on Twitter.

Image via Getty

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