Rebecca Furdek

While conducting extensive research, he stumbled upon the popular “Paleolithic” diet, which emphasizes the increased consumption of protein and vegetables while limiting starch intake. Cooksey tried the diet and lost over 75 pounds, stopped requiring any diabetes medication, and felt immensely healthier! Understandably enthusiastic about his success story, he started both a blog and an online advice column in hopes of encouraging others interested in giving this low-carb lifestyle a try.

However, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition did not share his enthusiasm. Alleging that Cooksey was providing illegal advise, the Board (literally) took a red pen to his words. For example, they declared illegal an instance in which he opined, “I do suggest that your friend eat as I do and exercise as best they can.” Cooksey was informed that whether for free or through compensation, he could not provide such nutritional “counseling” without becoming a licensed nutritionist.

He is not alone. Just this year, John Rosemond, America’s longest running newspaper columnist, faced a similar threat. Rosemond writes a syndicated Dear Abby-style column, running in over 200 newspapers, in which he provides general, commonsense parenting advice. He holds a master’s degree in psychology and is a North Carolina-licensed psychologist. However, the Kentucky attorney general decided that the sort of one-on-one “dialogue” Rosemond has with anonymous readers on his column conflicts with licensing board requirements, and is occupational “conduct.” Rosemond was told to either stop publishing or face jail and/or fines.

These are just two examples.

The Supreme Court has yet to directly decide whether licensing laws and regulations can trump free speech. Until they do, it is worth contemplating the potential effects licensing could have on our own lives. For instance, is proclaiming yourself a floral enthusiast on your Twitter account, then advising an acquaintance online that she should add daisies to her bouquet occupational “conduct?” Is advice on how to most effectively unclog a toilet professionally sacred words that only a licensed plumber may utter?

These questions are especially salient in light of how we increasingly interact in modern society. Millennials prize new avenues of speech that were unfathomable mere decades ago. We now have the ability to convene and generate dialogue like never before, a phenomenon posing almost limitless access to information and diverse personal insights.

The First Amendment has long upheld our right to simply converse with and advise each other as laypersons. The bureaucratic stricturing of occupational licensing regimes is threatening the exciting possibility of maintaining such basic First Amendment rights within the broadened realities of our modern age.

Instead of allowing individuals to engage in everyday dialogue as has occurred for thousands of years, then choose to seek out a licensed professional if so desired, the former is being barred at the behest of empowering the latter. This threat to our speech should be of great concern to us all, both in regards to our own abilities to freely converse and to the weakening implications potentially in store for our nation’s long-held Constitutional values.

Rebecca Furdek

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