Friendly Advice And The First Amendment

Here’s some food for thought, so to speak. It’s a post from the Institute for Justice about that organization’s efforts on behalf of Steve Cooksey. It’s a pretty interesting story, as you can see from this excerpt:

In February 2009, Cooksey was rushed to the hospital in a near diabetic coma. After years of sedentary living and poor diet, he had developed Type II diabetes. His doctors told him he would be dependent on drugs and insulin for the rest of his life.

While in the hospital, Cooksey spoke with a North Carolina-licensed dietitian who told him to eat a high-carbohydrate/low-fat diet, limit his caloric intake, monitor his blood sugar and inject insulin as needed. But as Cooksey began reading more about his condition in books and on the Internet, he became increasingly skeptical of the dietician’s advice. Because diabetes is an inability to properly process sugar, he found himself attracted to theories by advocates of low-carbohydrate/high-fat diets. After much research, Cooksey eventually settled on a “Paleolithic” diet, which involves eating food similar to that eaten by our Stone Age ancestors, eschewing sugars, processed foods and starches in favor of fresh vegetables, fish, meats, eggs, fats and nuts.

After adopting a Paleolithic diet, Cooksey underwent a dramatic personal transformation. He lost 78 pounds and is now in excellent health; he freed himself of drugs and doctors, normalized his blood sugar and insulin, and considers himself fit and energized. Cooksey started a blog to share his experience and advice, becoming an advocate for the Paleolithic diet on his free Web site, Diabetes-Warrior.net.

But I digress. Cooksey’s blog was successful enough that he started charging a fee for his advice and coaching. And that got the attention of the North Carolina Board of Dietetics, who consider Cooksey’s activities the unlicensed and illegal practice of dietetics. The Board wants to limit what Cooksey can say on his Web site, and that, as you might imagine, brings the First Amendment into the picture. The Institute for Justice folks see it as a major intrusion on Cooksey’s First Amendment rights motivated by a desire to “maintain a lucrative, status-enhancing monopoly over the provision of dietary advice.” I haven’t read the state’s position, but I assume it wants to limit the ability of charlatans to prey on an unsuspecting public. Once again, this isn’t a new fight, but the Internet’s ubiquity and ease of access shines a light on the issue. It’s an interesting question, which I think the court will resolve by determining if there is a compelling need for the regulation and if the censorship is the “least restrictive” means to address the need. We’ll see. How do you think it should come out?