Protecting Free Speech in the Sunshine State

Eat less sugar and more vegetables. Cut back on carbs and alcohol. Commonsense dietary advice? Absolutely. But in the state of Florida, it is also a crime.

Heather Kokesch Del Castillo of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, found that out the hard way. Heather’s life of “crime” began in 2014, when she founded Constitution Nutrition while living in California. As a privately certified health coach and CrossFit trainer, she worked with clients to help them improve their diets, set reasonable weight-loss goals and live a healthier lifestyle. Heather’s work was perfectly legal in California. But then her husband, a career Air Force officer, was transferred to Florida.

Unfortunately for Heather, Florida is one of 36 states that license the practice of dietetics—and Florida defines the practice of dietetics so broadly that it seemingly covers any individualized dietary advice offered for pay.

The government has no power to give any group a monopoly on advice about a common topic of life.

Although Heather has never held herself out as a licensed nutritionist or dietitian, the Florida Department of Health—acting on a complaint from a licensed dietitian—slapped her with an order to cease and desist providing nutritional advice and demanded that she pay over $750 in fines and costs. Facing the possibility of thousands of dollars in additional fines or even jail time if she continued offering dietary advice, Heather did as the state ordered and shut down. And she has been turning away willing clients ever since.

Heather’s story is not unique; occupational licensing boards are increasingly operating as censors, a trend that is driven in part by the explosive growth of occupational licensing. And these burdens are particularly acute for military families like Heather’s. When members of the U.S. military are relocated from one state to another, their spouses often find that they are subject to new licensing laws that did not exist in their previous state or that their existing professional credentials are not transferable to their new state.

But this sort of censorship cannot be squared with the First Amendment. Advice about what people should eat to stay healthy is surely as old as language, and the government has no power to give any group a monopoly on advice about a common topic of life. Just as the government cannot require a license before an author can write a book of dietary advice, the government cannot require a license for speakers like Heather.

That is why Heather is fighting back. On October 3, 2017, Heather joined with IJ to file a lawsuit in federal court to strike down Florida’s government-granted monopoly on speech about diet. Heather’s lawsuit is part of our cutting-edge fight to protect occupational speech from government censorship.

Together, we will set an important precedent that will vindicate Heather’s right—and the right of all Floridians—to offer nutritional advice and health coaching without the fear of being prosecuted or shut down by the government. And, ultimately, we will vindicate the principle that occupational licensing laws do not trump the First Amendment.

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