Okay, I’m really not supposed to be writing today – today is devoted to answering emails, cleaning the house for week-long company, and preparing for a high school reunion this evening. . .
But I can’t NOT say something. Just be glad you’re not my husband who has to listen to my fast-talking, slightly raised-voice tirade (love you, sweetie!) and instead can read in silence. 🙂
I’m talking about the article I read here, here, and here in which the state of North Carolina forced a blogger to remove parts of his website content because he was giving dietary advice without an occupational license.
I know, that’s exactly what I said!
Dietary Advice isn’t a Freedom of Speech
The North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition went through Steve Cooksey’s Paleolithic (a.k.a. caveman diet) blog marking with red pen what he could and couldn’t say. They told him his Dear Abby-style advice column and paid life-coaching service were unlawful and that he could not give any “individualized or group-specific dietary advice legally” unless he had a license issued by the state.
An example of the unlawful advice they underlined? “I do suggest that your friend eat as I do and exercise the best they can.”
In a nutshell he was not allowed to give diabetics advice on what they should eat or advice on what to buy at the grocery store. Mr. Cooksey was asked to change and remove the portions of the blog the board specified or face the possibility of fines and jail time.
Mr. Cooksey complied with the changes – and then sued the North Carolina board for violating his freedom of speech.
U.S. District Judge Max Coburn dismissed the case because, as he says, dietary advice is not a constitutionally protected form of speech and is something government must regulate to protect consumer safety.
Let People Think for Themselves
So if the little girl I’m babysitting asks if she can eat her mud pies and I tell her that it’s not a good idea, then I’m in violation of giving illegal (because I’m not a legal dietary professional) advice? If a woman asks her friend what she would suggest to lose weight, the friend can’t share her advice because she’s not a legal professional?
As far as I know Steve Cooksey isn’t telling his readers he’s a doctor. He’s not waving around fake certificates or prescribing medication. In fact, the bottom of his blog reads: I am not a doctor, dietitian nor nutritionist… in fact I have no medical training of any kind. He’s simply giving advice based on his own experience with diabetes – and doing so in an obvious manner.
Doesn’t the government think people can think for themselves anymore? If people want to read his blog. It’s their choice. If they want to listen to his advice, it’s up to them. If they want to pay him for his advice, then by all means, let them. The last time I checked, reading and thinking for ourselves is a freedom we still have.
A three-judge appellate panel, which included a retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice, disagreed and sent the case back. They ordered that it be re-analyzed under a First Amendment framework saying, “The First Amendment simply does not allow North Carolina to criminalize something as commonplace as advice about diet”.
“This is a decisive, pivotal decision in Steve Cooksey’s favor,” said institute Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes. “It will be an important precedent not just in his case, but for cases all over the country where licensing boards are trying to censor people’s advice.”
The specific question Cooksey’s case will answer “is whether one-on-one advice is going to be a well-protected or ignored form of speech and that has dramatic implications for people across the country, because there are lots of occupations that consist mainly of speech.”
“There are millions of people who exchange advice, both for money and for free, both as amateurs and professionals, over the Internet. This case ultimately will be an important benchmark for determining whether the kind of advice people have been sharing since the advent of language — about parenting, marriage, relationships, you name it — is going to be a protected form of speech or whether the government can regulate and censor it.”
*Update*: I just discovered that one of my blogging acquaintances knows Steve Cooksey. I asked her to contact him to see if there was any way we could encourage/support him.
He responded: “Very kind of you (and them to ask) … so far all it’s taken is my time. The Institute for Justice has represented me free of charge. IJ represent people all the time in cases like mine. If any one wants to donate to them… I know they would appreciate it. ” The donation link is https://www.ij.org/donate
(I am not affiliated in any way to the Institute for Justice.)