InterAction's leadership award honors team that championed free speech rights for NGOs

Jun 12, 2014, 07:45 ET from InterAction

WASHINGTON, June 12, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- NGO alliance InterAction is awarding today its 2014 Julia Vadala Taft Outstanding Leadership Award to a team that championed the free speech rights of NGOs in a legal battle that lasted 10 years and culminated in a favorable U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The award, which honors outstanding and distinguished leaders whose work supports the international nonprofit community, goes to former InterAction Board Chairman Dan Pellegrom and lawyers Laura Abel, David W. Bowker, and Rebekah Diller, for their contributions to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in USAID v. AOSI.

The case, brought in 2005, joined as litigants InterAction, Pathfinder, the Alliance for Open Society International and the Global Health Council. , The suit challenged a 2003 law that requires all groups receiving U.S. government funds for international HIV and AIDS work to have "a policy explicitly opposing prostitution" which extended to all their activities, whether or not funded by the government.  In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court decided 6-2 in the NGO community's favor, ruling that the government cannot force groups to embrace a proscribed government position.  Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the opinion, agreed with the plaintiffs and affirmed that "freedom of speech prohibits the government from telling people what they must say.

"This was a long battle, and we are extremely thankful for the hard work and dedication of those honored tonight," said Samuel A. Worthington, president and CEO of InterAction. "This is an important case in protecting free speech and ensuring that the U.S. NGO community continues to have a free voice in important debates."

The award will be presented Thursday evening at InterAction's Forum 2014, an annual conference drawing more than 1,000 participants in Washington, DC. The awardees are:

Laura Abel is senior policy counsel at Lawyers Alliance for New York, where she leads the organization's advocacy efforts on behalf of the nonprofit sector and provides business law representation to nonprofit organizations. She represented the plaintiffs in USAID v. AOSI from 2005 through the Supreme Court victory. For most of that time, she was an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

David W. Bowker is a partner in the WilmerHale law firm, which brought the case to the Supreme Court and won. Bowker has extensive experience handling matters involving public international law and human rights.

Rebekah Diller is a clinical assistant professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Previously, Diller was Deputy Director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, where she spearheaded research, advocacy, and litigation to expand access to justice for low-income families and to preserve the free speech rights of nonprofit organizations. While there she helped spearhead the USAID v. AOSI case.

Dan Pellegrom served as the board chairman of InterAction from 2002-2006 and was the CEO of Pathfinder. During his tenure as chair, he led the decision to have InterAction engage in legal action and helped build consensus around the decision to take on the USAID v. AOSI case.

The Julia Vadala Taft Outstanding Leadership Award celebrates leaders whose contributions transcend their own organizations and serve the U.S. NGO sector as a whole. The award is named for a distinguished American humanitarian, Julia Vadala Taft, who served as director of USAID's? Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, and president of InterAction. Her leadership stands for mobilizing collective action to curb poverty and relieve human suffering.

InterAction's Forum 2014 is sponsored in part by gold-level sponsor UPS®. InterAction would like to thank all its sponsors who have made Forum 2014 possible. 

Tweet this: Honoring champions of #freespeech rights for NGOs at #InterActionForum: #firstamendment

InterAction is the largest alliance of U.S.-based nongovernmental international organizations, with more than 180 members. Our members operate in every developing country, working with local communities to overcome poverty and suffering by helping to improve their quality of life. Visit Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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