Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, ends his opinion with what is perhaps the most lofty expression in all of the Supreme Court Reports:
We cannot improve upon what Justice Jackson wrote for the Court 70 years ago: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." [West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624, 642 (1943).Justice Scalia (who's joined by Thomas) does not appreciate the invocation of Jackson's famously fixed star. He said it was a distraction from "the elephant in the room: that the Government is not forcing anyone to say anything." Congress simply demanded that the recipients of federal funds have "an ideological commitment relevant" to the work that the government is funding. Barnette was about requiring American children to pledge allegiance to the flag. But the U.S. Constitution itself requires legislators to take an oath or affirmation of allegiance to the government, and that shows that the founders believed in "the wisdom of imposing affirmative ideological commitments prerequisite to assisting in the government’s work."
You may remember a 1991 case called Rust v. Sullivan, where the Supreme Court upheld HHS regulations that required recipients of federal health-care grants for family planning services to refrain from discussing abortion as an option. Congress was exercising its spending power, and:
That power includes the authority to impose limits on the use of such funds to ensure they are used in the manner Congress intends. Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U. S. 173, 195, n. 4 (1991) (“Congress’ power to allocate funds for public purposes includes an ancillary power to ensure that those funds are properly applied to the prescribed use.”)In Rust, Roberts says, Congress was defining the program it funded, which was to "encourage only particular family planning methods." Even though Congress limited what they could say as they carried out the funded activity they agreed to do, it did not try to limit their speech outside of the program and it did not require them to espouse a government-prescribed anti-abortion policy.
Justice Scalia said that the government is entitled have its own viewpoints, and it can express that viewpoint by excluding recipients who believe things they don't want promoted.
If the organization Hamas—reputed to have an efficient system for delivering welfare—were excluded from a program for the distribution of U. S. food assistance, no one could reasonably object. And that would remain true if Hamas were an organization of United States citizens entitled to the protection of the Constitution. So long as the unfunded organization remains free to engage in its activities (including anti-American propaganda) “without federal assistance,” United States v. American Library Assn., Inc., 539 U. S. 194, 212 (2003) (plurality), refusing to make use of its assistance for an enterprise to which it is opposed does not abridge its speech. And the same is true when the rejected organization is not affirmatively opposed to, but merely unsupportive of, the object of the federal program, which appears to be the case here. (Respondents do not promote prostitution, but neither do they wish to oppose it.) A federal program to encourage healthy eating habits need not be administered by the American Gourmet Society, which has nothing against healthy food but does not insist upon it....So how much do you worry about the government exploiting its immense power to channel money into controlling what people are able to say? Just don't fall for the temptation of taking the money and you can say whatever you want — that's the Scaliaesque answer.
As the government rakes in more and more money and turns around and redistributes it with strings attached, I'd say we should worry a lot. I'm glad to see the free speech right strengthened here.