The disappointing decision in June Medical v. Russo dominated the airwaves yesterday. However, there was a win for human dignity in another Supreme Court case. In Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., the Court held that the Leadership Act’s Policy Requirement—which requires organizations receiving federal funds to combat HIV/AIDS to adopt a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking—is constitutional as applied to domestic organizations’ foreign affiliates. We applaud the Court’s decision. The Leadership Act’s Policy Requirement is a common-sense measure that promotes the human dignity of all people and especially women, who are most frequently the victims of prostitution and sex trafficking.

In 2003, congressional findings indicated that HIV/AIDS had “assumed pandemic proportions.” Data showed that, since the 1980s, the disease had killed more than 25 million people, infected an additional 40 million people, and orphaned an estimated 14 million children worldwide. In response, the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 (the Leadership Act) “outlined a comprehensive strategy to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS around the world.” As part of this strategy, the Act prescribed efforts “to address the social and behavioral causes of the problem” and authorized the president to allocate funds to organizations that combat HIV/AIDS overseas. With a few exceptions, only organizations that adopted “a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking” were eligible to receive funds.

In 2005, a group of United States-based organizations challenged the Policy Requirement. They argued that “adopting a policy explicitly opposing prostitution may alienate certain host governments, and may diminish the effectiveness of some of their programs by making it more difficult to work with prostitutes in the fight against HIV/AIDS.” Some organizations on the left, joined by some libertarians, advocate for the legalization of prostitution (which they call “sex work”), ostensibly to allow government regulation of health and safety. They argue that a distinction can be made between “sex work” and “sex trafficking” and believe that legalization would help to empower “sex workers.” Prostitution is inherently degrading to women, and there is no evidence that its legalization makes this practice less exploitative. When it comes to fighting HIV/AIDS, discouraging a “profession” that inherently involves the high-risk behavior of sexual relations with multiple partners should be part of our national strategy. Congress held this view, and insisted that U.S. aid recipients overseas do the same.

In 2013, the Supreme Court held that the Policy Requirement was unconstitutional as applied to American organizations operating overseas because it compelled these organizations to adopt the government’s stance on prostitution and sex trafficking as a condition of receiving the funds.

In 2015, the organizations renewed their challenge to the Policy Requirement. They opposed the government’s continued application of the Policy Requirement to their “closely aligned” foreign affiliates, organizations that shared the same “name, logo, brand, and mission” but were legally separate entities incorporated under the laws of other nations. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Policy.

In its decision yesterday, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Second Circuit. Writing for the majority, Justice Kavanaugh noted that long-standing principles of American law compel the conclusion that “[a]s foreign organizations operating abroad, plaintiff’s foreign affiliates possess no rights under the First Amendment.” President Trump’s other appointee, Justice Gorsuch, also joined the majority. The Court was unpersuaded by the organizations’ argument that the speech of their foreign affiliates would be misattributed to them because the organizations were not compelled by the government to affiliate with these foreign organizations or to espouse their message. Any misattribution would be a result of their own actions, not those of the government.

The Court’s decision has important implications for human dignity. The Bible teaches that both men and women are created in the image of God and that each person is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” This means all people possess inherent dignity, worth, and value. By objectifying women, the sex trafficking industry fails to acknowledge the human dignity of women. Congress itself recognized this, stating that “[p]rostitution and other sexual victimization are degrading to women and children and it should be the policy of the United States to eradicate such practices.” The Court’s decision yesterday should be celebrated because requiring organizations to adopt a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking promotes the dignity of all people around the world. 

Katherine Beck Johnson is Research Fellow for Legal and Policy Studies at Family Research Council.

Kaitlyn Shepherd is a legal intern with Policy & Government Affairs at Family Research Council.