Rebecca Furdek

Young Voices is a new project which exists to achieve greater media representation for promising college students and young professionals. Every week a different Advocate will comment on the stories which impact their lives.

What do we do when we want advice? Sometimes, we choose to seek out a licensed professional. Other times, we simply rely first – and perhaps ultimately – on the recommendations of those around us. Every day, we give opinions and advice to friends, family members, neighbors, and colleagues on everything from parenting tips to home decorating to common health concerns. Furthermore, the Internet and its accompanying plethora of new social platforms enable us to position ourselves as speakers and listeners within a broader dialogue than ever before, with a seemingly endless community of fellow thinkers right at our fingertips.

Except when the state says you can’t speak. Except, for example, when the state forces you to obtain a PhD or a specific bachelor’s degree, complete 900 hours at an internship, and then pass an exam before being “allowed” to enter such a dialogue.

Occupational licensing regimes have risen sharply in the United States in recent years, placing bureaucratic barriers to entry on over 29% of all jobs. Meanwhile, our nation is undeniably replacing manual labor with service professions, which, by definition, rely heavily on speech. As such, these new broad licensing requirements have begun to affect the historically prized realm of free speech. Licensing boards, supported by some district and appellate courts, are increasingly shoving spoken advice within the purview of a licensed professional’s “conduct,” thereby barring these words from traditional First Amendment “speech” protections.

Who are these de facto speech restrictions affecting? Meet Steve Cooksey. Four years ago, Cooksey was obese and faced health conditions related to his weight. After teetering on the edge of a diabetic coma, he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes and told he would be on insulin and drugs for the rest of his life. However, he hoped to improve his condition despite this grave diagnosis.

Rebecca Furdek

Rebecca Furdek is a Young Voices Advocate and a law clerk at the Institute for Justice.