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Florida Threatens Woman with Fines, Jail for Giving Diet Tips

Occupational licensing runs amok in a familiar story.

Heather Kokesch Del CastilloInstitute for JusticeThe State of Florida is threatening a woman with jail unless she stops telling people what to eat.

To clarify: Heather Kokesch Del Castillo of Fort Walton Beach is not wandering around the supermarket in giving unsolicited advice. People have been asking her—and paying her—for dietary and nutritional advice. Though all she is doing is talking to people as a health coach, the state has declared her an unlicensed dietitian and fined her more than $750. She faces misdemeanor charges if she doesn't shut her mouth, with further fines of up to $1,000 for each incident and possibly even a year in prison.

She has turned for help to the lawyers at the Institute for Justice, who have been fighting overreaching occupational licensing schemes for years.

In this case, according to the institute's lawsuit, a licensed dietician looking to eliminate some competition snitched to the state. An investigator with Florida's Department of Health then posed as a potential customer and asked Kokesch Del Castillo for information about a potential weight-loss program. According the the lawsuit, she responded with information about her coaching services but at no point claimed to be a licensed dietitian.

Absurdly, the Department of Health held that by giving someone advice on how to lose weight, she was behaving like a licensed dietitian anyway. And as long as she didn't have the appropriate license, the government said, she'd have to stop. Becoming a licensed dietician in Florida requires a bachelor's degree in the appropriate field, completing 900 hours of supervised practice, taking a test, and paying fees. This would take years and cost thousands of dollars.

Yet if Kokesch Del Castillo put all her advice in a book, she could sell it to whomever she wanted. That's what makes the licensing law so absurd. It's obviously censorship, but they're disguising it as a public safety need in an attempt to bypass the First Amendment.

The Institute for Justice isn't having it:

The advice Heather offers is pure speech, no different from the constitutionally protected speech of the cookbook authors whose philosophies and recipes she recommends to her clients. In fact, under Florida law, it would be perfectly legal if Heather published her advice in a book. And under binding Supreme Court precedent, laws that restrict speech based on its subject matter are subject to the most rigorous level of constitutional scrutiny. Moreover, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the mere fact that a person is paid for their speech has no effect on its level of constitutional protection.

Florida is not the first or only state trying to censor diet tips as a form of occupational licensing. The Institute for Justice previously assisted a North Carolina blogger who the state tried to shut down for giving paleo-centered diet advice. The blogger won his fight, and the state issued new guidelines that didn't attempt to suppress free speech.

Nutritional guidance isn't the only sort of speech that has been censored via occupational regulation. The Institute for Justice also intervened when Kentucky's Board of Examiners of Psychology tried to treat a syndicated parenting advice column as an "unlicensed practice of psychology." Most recently, city officials have tried to use occupational licensing to control who is allowed to give paid tours of their communities.

Watch an Institute for Justice video below highlighting the absurdity of Kokesch Del Castillo's case:

Photo Credit: Institute for Justice

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  • geo1113||

  • BambiB||

    Hmm. So what about legal advice!??

    Can't wait to see the Institute for Justice take THAT one on!

    Some years back the State of Florida decided that people helping others fill out legal forms was "the practice of law". So... what's the difference? Behaving like a dietician/attorney?

  • Gospace||

    I'm going to be brutally honest here. Looking at the picture of her, and comparing it to most of the dieticians I've actually met, her advice is probably more valuable.

  • Ken Hagler||

    ". It's obviously censorship, but they're disguising it as a public safety need in an attempt to bypass the First Amendment."

    Of course the First Amendment does not include the words "...unless there is a public safety need, in which case infringe away."

  • Juice||

    It also doesn't include the words, "state legislatures shall make no law," unfortunately.

  • Marpa||

    the 14th amendment extends the bill of rights to the state legislatures and their laws

  • Juice||

    The Bill of Rights, despite what the SC said, always applied to the states. The supremacy clause says so.

    This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

    The first amendment, unlike all the rest of the amendments, makes an exception. It does not apply to the states. It only applies to laws made by Congress, unfortunately. Thankfully, the courts have amended the constitution by fiat.

  • swampwiz||

    Uh, Amendment XIV forces the states to abide by the same rules as the federal government.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    An investigator with Florida's Department of Health then posed as a potential customer and asked Kokesch Del Castillo for information about a potential weight-loss program.

    Doing the important jobs.

  • Rich||

    "I learned it from Project Veritas, OK?!"

  • Brandybuck||

    Meanwhile the Food Babe peddles her nonsense unconstrained...

  • Rich||

    the Department of Health held that by giving someone advice on how to lose weight, she was behaving like a licensed dietitian anyway. And as long as she didn't have the appropriate license, the government said, she'd have to stop. Becoming a licensed dietician in Florida requires a bachelor's degree in the appropriate field, completing 900 hours of supervised practice, taking a test, and paying fees.

    The Department of Health, by censoring advice on how to lose weight, is behaving like a licensed dietitian. Its employees had jolly well better all have a bachelor's degree in the appropriate field, have completed 900 hours of supervised practice, taken a test, and payed fees.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Look at Rich, pretending like the rules ever apply to the rulers.

  • Longtobefree||

    "and paying fees"

    There is the whole point.

  • MJBinAL||

    Of course, if you have ever been given any advise by "licensed dietician", you recognize that it would cheaper and better to just go ask your bartender. Generally, the advise is bad and expensive.

    You will be told to eat stuff perfect for fattening cows and pigs, then told that your problem is not that you are eating stuff perfect for fattening cows and pigs, but because you lack portion control.

    State licensing is the new was of anointing official priests and priestesses. All advise must be state approved comrade!

  • reasonator||

    Just sayin, a friend of mine got expensive advice and guidance from a licensed dietician and it changed his friggin life to the tune of something like 100 pounds or more. From what I saw, this is a profession that needs a wild west instead of an orthodoxy, because every patient is so different, and the best approach for them will be related to their culture and lifestyle so substantially that the best dietician for them may be simply someone who understands them the best--and all those factors are far more variable than what constitutes a healthy diet, which is simultaneously not understood at all, and yet not really that complex.

  • MV10||

    I have a friend who is a licensed dietician. She's about 60 pounds overweight and is vegan, both of which say more about her qualifications than any educational history or licensing.

    Petty bureaucrats turned tax collector, with licensed snitches tagging a steady stream of victims. Quite the racket.

  • swampwiz||

    I think that so long as she conspicuously mentions that she is not a professional dietician, there shouldn't be a problem. Certainly the State has the right to legally license folks and to stop other folks from misrepresenting themselves as being properly licensed.

  • EWM||

    Please provide evidence that "the State has the right".

  • Fred Z||

    This is an interesting story, but it would have been better with details of the names and positions of the people involved.

    Alinsky was right. We will not curb the unholy partnership of leftists, bureaucrats and politicians until they too have skin in the game.

    "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions."

    The lying investigator, the rat-fink dietitian, the lawyers and administrators involved, they all need to feel some pain. Publish their names, picket their homes and sue them. Bankrupt them. Even if the lawsuits fail, let them suffer, for as Mark Steyn knows, and says, "the process is the punishment". All of these creepy totalitarian minded people have helped to impose an unjust procedural punishment on this woman and they need to get one back.

  • MarieJenkinson||

    You know how some shoes are especially designed for workouts and others, it turns out, are acceptable for just nothing more than making fashion statements? Well, foods actually are like that too. Whenever you're attempting to eat well, it may be bothersome if unhealthful impostors--filled with fat, sugar, and sodium--reverse your great work. Here is the way to spot and avoid 5 of these. https://goo.gl/MbjKbQ

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