On May 7, Kentucky’s office of attorney general sent a letter to newspaper advice columnist John Rosemond. The letter ordered him to sign a consent decree that he would stop practicing psychology without a license in their state, and stop calling himself a psychologist in Kentucky as well, since he was not licensed by the state’s Board of Examiners of Psychology.
The kicker is that Kentucky claims that writing an advice column that appears in a newspaper in the state—in the specific case of their complaint, the Lexington Herald-Leader, though it appears in others as well—is not an act of freedom of the press, but rather practicing psychology without the required license.
One of Rosemond’s columns sparked a complaint from another psychologist in the state to the state Board of Examiners of Psychology, which apparently triggered the board’s ridiculous demand, even though the complainant didn’t actually ask the board to make him stop writing:
That the letter from the state described the same column as Neill complained about indicates his complaint likely triggered the unconstitutional demand. The letter demanded that Rosemond agree to stop publishing his column in Kentucky papers by May 30. He has not, and two letters Rosemond sent to the state seeking an extension and trying to clarify the matter have received no formal reply.
“I was incredulous” when the letter from the attorney general’s office arrived, Rosemond says. “I could not possibly imagine such a blatant attempt to restrict my First Amendment rights. I wasn’t upset by it, as much as just unbelieving.”
The Institute for Justice, which fights battles for economic freedom, the First Amendment, and school choice all over the nation, has taken Rosemond’s case.
They’re also working on a similar case in my home state of North Carolina, in which the state threatened a man with a blog about the paleo diet for allegedly crossing the state nutritionists board:
The North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition is threatening to send a blogger to jail for recounting publicly his battle against diabetes and encouraging others to follow his lifestyle.
Chapter 90, Article 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes makes it a misdemeanor to “practice dietetics or nutrition” without a license. According to the law, “practicing” nutrition includes “assessing the nutritional needs of individuals and groups” and “providing nutrition counseling.”
Steve Cooksey has learned that the definition, at least in the eyes of the state board, is expansive…
[T]his past January the state diatetics and nutrition board decided Cooksey’s blog — Diabetes-Warrior.net — violated state law. The nutritional advice Cooksey provides on the site amounts to “practicing nutrition,” the board’s director says, and in North Carolina that’s something you need a license to do.
That case is still working its way through the legal system.
Many of these occupational licensing boards run by the states end up operating as cartels to keep anybody from competing with the professional groups who end up running the licensing process. The laws can hamper new businesses run by the newest and most modest of entrepreneurs. Cosmetologists box out hairbraiders with requirements for hours upon hours of class instruction and licensing fees. Funeral directors use the state to require anyone selling a casket be licensed as a funeral home.
Brian Doherty of Reason outlines the very real threat some of these laws are now posing to free speech, and the occasional, scary willingness of courts to allow it.