Phillip Suderman · August 16, 2023

ARLINGTON, Va.—Dr. Ron Hines has been fighting for his right to provide advice to pet owners on the internet for over 10 years. As a retired veterinarian licensed in Texas, he still provides help to pet owners across the country and around the globe, including India, Iran, the United Kingdom, and more. But Dr. Hines will have to continue his legal battle after a federal district court determined that the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners may restrict his free speech by requiring him to physically examine an animal before offering advice. For a disabled senior citizen in Brownsville, Texas, this restriction will totally bar his speech with many people who want his help. Ron cannot travel to Iran, for example, to examine an injured wild bird that an Iranian good Samaritan is trying to help (an actual example from this case).

Dr. Hines, represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), will appeal the decision.

“This result is perplexing because the court had earlier ruled that Ron’s speech warranted the highest First Amendment protection, but the court reversed itself in this latest decision and applied a lesser standard,” said IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes. “Using occupational-licensing laws to restrict valuable speech is one of the most contested areas of free speech law, and we intend to convince the Court of Appeals that the trial court had it right the first time: Ron’s advice gets maximum First Amendment protection.”

Dr. Hines is also prepared to move forward.

“I’ve been fighting for the free speech of veterinarians for ten years now in my effort to make sure that the next generation has the freedom to share information and help animals as best as possible. We will carry that fight forward to the Court of Appeals. This ruling does not just affect pet owners in Texas. It affects people all around the world without local vets who rely on people like me.”

Dr. Hines will file his notice of appeal promptly. Briefing, argument, and a decision from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected in the latter half of 2024.

IJ has fought back against similar restrictions on free speech, including in the District of Columbia and New York involving teletherapy, and a case in North Carolina involving drone operation.