ON-Lion Letter

In February, 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.

Cooksey was represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ) in Arlington, Va.  The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee substantially supports IJ.

The "board vote recognizes that North Carolinians do not need the government's permission to give someone ordinary advice," according to IJ senior attorney Jeff Rowes. "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 2011, 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 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 to be 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.

"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."

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