Pensacola, Fla.—In Florida, giving someone advice on what to buy at the grocery store can land you in jail for up to a year. That is because Florida has given licensed dietitians and nutritionists a monopoly on giving paid, dietary advice. But a new First Amendment lawsuit, filed in federal court today by the Institute for Justice(IJ) and Fort Walton Beach-based health coach Heather Kokesch Del Castillo, seeks to change that.
Heather is a privately certified health coach and the founder of Constitution Nutrition, through which she provides personalized diet and nutrition advice to paying customers who often feel overwhelmed by the amount of information available on the topic. She successfully—and legally—gave advice in California and continued her business after her husband was transferred to a military base in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. But soon the Florida Department of Health came knocking on her door, ordered her to stop providing dietary advice unless she got a license and fined her over $750.
“If I wanted to publish a book about nutrition or dieting, I wouldn’t need a license in Florida,” said Heather. “But because I give advice directly to paying customers, the government has told me to stop talking.”
Getting a license is incredibly burdensome: Heather would have to go back to college to get a bachelor’s degree in health from a four-year university, complete 900 hours of supervised practice, pass an exam and pay multiple fees. Failure to get a license could result in a year in jail, $1,000 in fines per violation and up to $5,000 for each day the violation occurs.
“Heather shouldn’t need the government’s permission to give advice to other adults on what to buy at the grocery store,” said Paul Sherman, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represents Heather. “Advice about diet and nutrition is ubiquitous in America, and paying someone for that advice doesn’t strip it of First Amendment protection.”
Heather’s case is part of a growing, nationwide trend of occupational licensing boards restricting speech. In 2011, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition ordered paleo-diet blogger Steve Cooksey to stop providing online dietary advice, while in 2013, the Kentucky Board of Examiners of Psychology accused family psychologist John Rosemond of the unlicensed practice of psychology because of advice published in his nationally syndicated newspaper column.
IJ Attorney Ari Bargil said, “Occupational licensing boards are the new censors. They don’t think that the First Amendment applies to them, and they are increasingly aggressive. It is vital that the courts reject that censorship and protect the rights of both speakers and listeners to decide for themselves what messages are valuable or worth considering.”