Arlington, Va.—In response to widespread public outrage over a First Amendment lawsuit filed this week by newspaper columnist John Rosemond, the Kentucky Board of Examiners of Psychology has backpedaled from its threats to censor John’s syndicated column. The Board is now actively misleading the public by claiming that it did not attempt to censor John’s advice.
“The cease-and-desist letter John received clearly states that his response to a specific question from a reader is the illegal practice of psychology,” said IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes. “Now that the media’s spotlight is shining on them, the Board is suddenly disavowing their outrageous attempt to censor a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist.”
In May, the Kentucky Attorney General and the Board sent John a cease-and-desist letter telling him that his column—which is syndicated in more than 200 papers nationwide—is the unlicensed practice of psychology. The letter also stated that because John is only licensed to practice psychology in North Carolina, he may not call himself a “family psychologist” in the tagline of his newspaper column.
Rather than back down, John joined with the Institute for Justice to fight back. On Tuesday, July 16, the Institute filed a First Amendment lawsuit to vindicate his right to give parenting advice and to truthfully describe himself as a “family psychologist” in his newspaper column, just as he has in Kentucky for over 30 years.
In response to the lawsuit, the chair of the Kentucky Psychology Board, Eva Markham, now claims that the Board had no intent to censor John’s speech. On CBS’s This Morning, Markham said, “That’s fascinating that this has turned into the First Amendment. We are perfectly happy—he can say anything he wants to as long as he is clear that he is not a psychologist in Kentucky.” (http://cbsn.ws/12K9zpx,quote starts at 2:25).
But the cease-and-desist letter the Board sent to John tells a different story. In reference to a column of John’s that ran in the Lexington Herald-Leader on February 12, the letter states:
The article is your response to a specific question from a parent about handling a teenager was [sic] a psychological service to the general public, which constituted the practice of psychology as defined by [Kentucky law]. The Board takes no issue with the quality of the psychological services or the applicable standard of care. [Kentucky law] defines the “practice of psychology,” which includes the activities performed by you in the February 12, 2013 article. By providing professional services in Kentucky, constitutes [sic] the practice of psychology in Kentucky.
IJ Client John Rosemond said, “I think the letter I received speaks for itself. I would encourage the media to ask the members of the Board: If they didn’t care about my advice, why did they send me a letter telling me that my advice is illegal?”
In addition to sending the letter, the Board also sent John a “Cease and Desist Affidavit and Assurance of Voluntary Compliance,” which they ordered John to sign or else risk “further legal action.” In separately numbered paragraphs, the affidavit requires John to promise both to stop using the title “psychologist” and to stop offering “mental health services.”
Rowes said, “There is only one way to read the Board’s letter and affidavit: Stop giving parenting advice, or else.”
IJ Attorney Paul Sherman said, “All too often, the government acts like a schoolyard bully: They pick on the little guy until someone shows up to defend him, and then they act like nothing happened. But the First Amendment doesn’t allow the government to fire off letters telling people that their speech is illegal and then disavow those letters whenever someone fights back. No matter what the Board now claims, its threats violated John’s First Amendment rights. The Board can either admit that, or a federal court can decide the matter for them.”
For more on this lawsuit, visit www.ij.org/KYPsychSpeech. Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice is the national law firm for liberty.