Is Advocating the Paleo Diet Against the Law? A New Institute for Justice Suit Stands Up For Free Speech Against Occupational Licensing Law


Free speech is all too often a joke in this land, and one of the more ridiculous attempts to shut people up by law is hooked to "occupational licensing." Sometimes, says the government, you can only say certain things if some state-powered cartel gives you legal permission to do so.

The state of North Carolina's attempts to shut down Steve Cooksey's blog about how he believes the paleo diet helped him deal with diabetes on the grounds that he needs to be licensed by the state's Board of Dietetics/Nutrition is one of the sillier, and yet still grossly offensive, such cases to arise lately.

The Institute for Justice agrees, and has stepped in to file a lawsuit, Cooksey v. Futrell et al., in federal court against the state Board, which will be officially filed tomorrow, to stand up for Cooksey's right to speak what he thinks is true about diet and diabetes.

Summing up the case, from IJ's press release:

In December 2011, Steve Cooksey started a Dear Abby-style advice column on his blog to answer reader questions.  In January 2012, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition informed Steve that he could not give readers personal advice on diet, whether for free or for compensation, because doing so constituted the unlicensed, and thus criminal, practice of dietetics. 

The State Board also told Steve that his private emails and telephone calls with friends and readers were illegal.   The Board also ordered him to shut down his life-coaching service.  Violating the North Carolina licensing law can lead to fines, court orders to be silent and even jail…..

What is at issue goes far beyond diet advice:

This lawsuit seeks to answer one of the most important unresolved questions in First Amendment law:  When does the government's power to license occupations trump free speech?

"Advice is protected speech," said IJ attorney Paul Sherman.  "Just because the government can license certain types of expert professional advice doesn't mean the government can license every type of advice."

While whether Cooksey is "right" about the paleo diet and diabetes isn't what's important about this, IJ points out that a lot is at stake beyond the principle of free speech here as well:

Steve Cooksey began offering dietary advice because he is concerned about America's diabetes epidemic.  Over 25 million Americans have diabetes, including approximately 800,000 in North Carolina.  The human and financial toll is staggering.  Diabetes is now a leading cause of stroke, blindness, kidney failure requiring transplantation, and amputation.  Because diabetes is a condition of elevated blood sugar, Steve advocates eating foods that keep blood sugar low.  

After being diagnosed with Type II diabetes, Steve did research and learned that the high-carb/low-fat diet his doctors recommended to him may not be best for diabetics because carbohydrates raise blood sugar.  He adopted the low-carb "Paleolithic" diet of our Stone Age ancestors: fresh veggies, meats, eggs and fish, but no sugars, processed foods or agricultural starches.   

Steve lost 78 pounds, freed himself of drugs and doctors, normalized his blood sugar and feels healthier than ever.   He believes a low-carb diet is the simplest, cheapest and most effective way to treat diabetes…

I blogged in April about the these absurd attempts on the part of North Carolina to quell Steve's speech.

IJ's full litigation backgrounder on the case.

Dedicated website for what IJ is calling the "paleospeech" case.

Mike Riggs blogged a few weeks back on IJ's great report on the general idiocy and overreach of occupational licensing law in these here United States.

A cartoon promotional video about the case: