WASHINGTON (JTA) — A US Supreme Court decision released Monday in a case about NGOs, HIV-AIDS funding, and prostitution could force US aid recipients to comply with American policy on Israel.
Foreign nonprofits must hew to US government dictates to receive the money, the high court ruled.
“As foreign organizations operating abroad, plaintiffs’ foreign affiliates possess no rights under the First Amendment,” said the 5-3 decision written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The case was brought by a group of NGOs contesting the Trump administration’s requirement that they explicitly oppose sex trafficking and prostitution as a condition for receiving funds to combat HIV-AIDS overseas from the US Agency for International Development. The NGOs argued that the requirement violates speech freedoms and inhibits their ability to reach those who need their assistance.
The case could have implications for nonprofits in the Middle East that the US government considers to be not sufficiently in line with its Israel policies. In May, Kavanaugh appeared during oral arguments to anticipate repercussions the decision would have on such groups.
“Suppose the US government wants to fund foreign NGOs that support peace in the Middle East, but only if the NGOs explicitly recognize Israel as a legitimate state,” Kavanaugh asked the plaintiffs. “Are you saying the US can’t impose that kind of speech restriction on foreign NGOs that are affiliated with US organizations?”
A 2013 Supreme Court decision ruled that US NGOs were protected by speech freedoms. This case decided whether those freedoms extended to foreign affiliates.
Justice Elana Kagan recused herself from Monday’s decision because, as solicitor general in the Obama administration, she had helped prepare the government’s arguments in the 2013 case.