Arlington, Va.—On Friday, October 5, a federal court dismissed diabetic blogger Steve Cooksey’s free speech lawsuit on standing grounds. The case, which has received significant national media attention, seeks to answer one of the most important unresolved questions in First Amendment law: Does the government’s power to license occupations trump free speech?
“In America, citizens don’t have to wait until they are fined or thrown in jail before they are allowed to challenge government action that chills their speech,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes. “When the executive director of a government agency goes through your writing with a red pen and tells you on a line-by-line basis what you can and can’t say, that is censorship and the courts can hear that case.”
In December 2011, Steve Cooksey from Stanley, N.C., started a Dear Abby-style advice column on his diet blog to answer readers’ questions. In January 2012, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition informed Steve that he could not give readers personal advice on diet, whether for free or for compensation, because doing so constituted the unlicensed, and thus criminal, practice of dietetics.
The State Board also told Steve that his private emails and telephone calls with friends and readers were illegal. Violating the North Carolina licensing law can lead to fines, court orders to be silent, and even jail. On May 30 Steve teamed up with the Institute for Justice, filing a major First Amendment lawsuit against the State Board in federal court.
Steve’s case was dismissed October 5 on the grounds that Steve did not suffer an injury that gives him a basis to challenge the government’s actions. The Institute for Justice plans to appeal and will argue that the government cannot single people out, tell them that their speech is illegal, and then plead in court that it has not chilled their speech.
“We intend to fight not only to defend the right to speak, but also to defend the right of speakers to go into court after the government silences them,” said IJ Attorney Paul Sherman. “You don’t need the government’s permission to give someone ordinary advice, and we will take Steve’s case all the way to the Supreme Court if that’s what it takes to vindicate free speech and Internet freedom.”
After being diagnosed with diabetes, Steve did research and learned that the high-carb/low-fat diet his doctors recommended to him may not be best for diabetics because carbohydrates raise blood sugar. He adopted a low-carb “Paleolithic” diet that mimics our ancestors: lots of fresh vegetables, meats, and fish, but no sugars, processed foods or agricultural starches.
Steve lost 78 pounds, freed himself of drugs and doctors, normalized his blood sugar, and feels healthier than ever. He believes a low-carb diet is the simplest, cheapest and most effective way to treat diabetes. This goes against the conventional wisdom promoted by licensed dietitians, who advocate a high-carb diet and drugs to lower blood sugar.
“We will keep up this fight until everyone in North Carolina is free to talk about important topics like diet without facing government censorship,” said IJ client Steve Cooksey. “We cannot let government licensing boards censor the Internet and chill our speech.”
For more on the lawsuit, visit www.ij.org/PaleoSpeech. Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice is a national public interest law firm that fights for free speech and economic liberty nationwide.