Court Says Advice Column is Subject to Freedom of the Press

By Sarah Gompper

On May 7th, 2013, syndicated advice columnist John Rosemond received a cease and desist letter from the office of the Attorney General of Kentucky, Jack Conway, regarding an article he had published in the Lexington Herald-Leader nearly three months earlier. The letter was on the behalf on the Kentucky Board of Examiners of Psychology and claimed that by giving parenting advice in his column, Rosemond was acting in violation of state licensing laws for the practice of psychology.

Rosemond brought suit against the Board immediately after receiving the letter. The decision, released last week, was a major win for freedom and the First Amendment. A press release by the Institute for Justice, the firm which represented Rosemond, called it “one of the strongest decisions a federal court has ever issued in defense of speech that the government tries to restrict with an occupational-licensing law.”

Rosemond’s popular column has run for 40 years and is syndicated in over 200 papers around the country, in which he gives “Dear Abby-style” advice about parenting. He holds a master’s degree in psychology and is a licensed psychological associate in his home state of North Carolina.

The Board claimed that his practice of publishing answers to anonymous questions, even without any exchange of money for the advice or any claim that he was a licensed psychologist in the state of Kentucky, violated a law stating practicing psychologists must be licensed by the Board. The article which the Board referred to in the cease and desist letter was a response to the parents of a “spoiled” teenager advising them to take away his phone and car privileges until he shaped up.

Paul Sherman, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, summarized the victory: “Do occupational licensing laws trump free speech? The district court correctly held that they do not.”

The Court ruled that “Rosemond’s speech deserves the highest level of constitutional protection,” finding no logical reason for the Board to restrict his column. “Rosemond is entitled to express his views and the fact that he is not a Kentucky-licensed psychologist does not change that fact.”

The order concluded by enjoining the Board from enforcing the laws unconstitutionally against Rosemond or others. “To permit the state to halt this lawful expression would result in a harm far more concrete and damaging to society than the speculative harm which the State purportedly seeks to avoid.”

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