- N.C. Board of Dietetics/Nutrition settles lawsuit, adopts new guidelines for advice-givers.
- Stanley, N.C.-based blogger is free to provide advice on the low-carb “Paleolithic” diet.
- Government censorship of online advice still remains a nationwide problem.
Cary, N.C.—Last week, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition voted to adopt new guidelines allowing people to give ordinary diet advice without a government license, thus settling a May 2012 First Amendment lawsuit filed by diabetic blogger Steve Cooksey of Stanley, N.C. The board had previously told Cooksey that his blog offering personalized advice on how to follow the low-carbohydrate “Paleolithic” diet required a government license.
“Last week’s board vote recognizes that North Carolinians do not need the government’s permission to give someone ordinary advice,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes, who represented Cooksey in his lawsuit. “North Carolina cannot require someone like Steve to be a state-licensed dietitian any more than it could require Dear Abby to be a state-licensed psychologist.”
In December 2011, Steve Cooksey started an advice column on his blog to answer reader questions about his struggle with Type II diabetes. Cooksey had lost 78 pounds, freed himself of drugs and doctors, and normalized his blood sugar after adopting a low-carb “Paleo” diet, modeled on the diet of our Stone Age ancestors. He wanted to use his blog to share his experience with others.
However, in January 2012, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition informed Cooksey that he could not give readers personalized advice on diet, whether for free or for compensation, because doing so constituted the unlicensed practice of dietetics. The board deemed Cooksey’s advice the unlicensed practice of nutritional counseling, sent him a 19-page print-up of his website indicating in red pen what he was and was not allowed to say, and threatened him with legal action if he did not comply.
“All I wanted to do was give adults advice on what they should buy at the grocery store,” said Steve Cooksey. “I was astonished that the government thought it had the power to regulate that sort of ordinary advice. These new guidelines make clear that I can provide that advice to anyone who wants to hear it, and they will provide important protection for all North Carolinians who want to talk with others about diet.”
Cooksey’s situation is not unique—the Institute for Justice is currently litigating two similar cases based out of Texas and Kentucky. In Texas, the Texas Veterinary Board wants to use its licensing power to shut down a retired veterinarian who uses the Internet to give veterinary advice to pet owners who often live in remote areas of the world without access to veterinarians. In Kentucky, John Rosemond—America’s longest running newspaper advice columnist—was ordered by the state’s Psychology Board to cease publishing his parenting column because the Board believes John’s column constitutes the “unlicensed practice of psychology.”
“Cases like Steve’s raise one of the most important unanswered questions in constitutional law: Do occupational licensing laws trump the First Amendment?” said IJ Senior Attorney Paul Sherman. “The Institute for Justice is committed to protecting occupational speech throughout the country. This settlement is an important victory in that fight.”
For more on the lawsuit, visit https://ij.org/case/paleospeech-2/. 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.