Parenting advice columnist John Rosemond filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the Kentucky agency that licenses psychologists after it attempted to block publication of his nationally syndicated column in the state.
Rosemond and his attorneys claim that the Kentucky Board of Examiners of Psychology and Attorney General Jack Conway’s office are violating his right to free speech by unlawfully attempting to censor his column, which pushes an anti-pampering approach to parenting.
“This is not about me; this is about the right of an American citizen to seek advice concerning issues or problems of living from whomever they choose,” Rosemond said in an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader, one of more than 200 newspapers that publishes his weekly column. The News Observer publishes Rosemond’s column on Tuesdays in Life, etc.
An attorney in Conway’s office, which represents the psychology board, issued a cease-and-desist affidavit to Rosemond in May, arguing that a column published Feb. 12 in the Herald-Leader “constituted the practice of psychology.”
It is against Kentucky law to practice psychology without a state license, or to use the title “psychologist” without having a state license. Rosemond, a licensed psychological associate in North Carolina, does not hold a Kentucky license. He is routinely identified as a “family psychologist” in a note at the end of his columns.
The affidavit threatens legal action if Rosemond does not agree to stop offering psychological advice in Kentucky and stop calling himself a psychologist.
“Occupational licensing boards are the new censors,” said Paul Sherman, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is representing Rosemond. “They are aggressive, and they don’t think the First Amendment applies to them.”
Advice or free speech?
Licensing boards in many states have taken similar actions in recent years, showing disregard for the rights of professionals to speak freely, Sherman said.
For example, the libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice, based in Arlington, Va., has filed a lawsuit on behalf of North Carolina blogger Steve Cooksey, who was told he could not offer advice about the low-carbohydrate Paleo diet because he was not a licensed dietitian. In Kentucky, the institute filed a lawsuit Tuesday afternoon on Rosemond’s behalf, seeking a restraining order against the psychology board and a preliminary injunction to allow Rosemond to continue publishing his column until the lawsuit is resolved. Eva Markham, who chairs the Kentucky psychology board, told The Associated Press that the board’s primary point of contention is that Rosemond refers to himself as a psychologist. She pointed out that the master’s degree that backs his license in North Carolina would be insufficient in Kentucky.
“We don’t care what he writes,” Markham told The AP. “I see advice columns that are horrendously bad ... but we can’t do a thing about it.”
Still, she could not say for certain that the board, which meets Thursday, would accept the column if the concerns over Rosemond’s title were resolved.
Without intervention by the court, Rosemond could face up to a year in jail and $1,000 in fines for each column published in Kentucky after Monday, which was the deadline for Rosemond to sign the cease-and-desist affidavit, Sherman said.
“John’s column is simply advice, and advice is protected by the First Amendment,” Sherman said.
Herald-Leader Editor Peter Baniak said the newspaper has published Rosemond for at least 30 years and has no plans to stop running his column, which appeared in Tuesday’s newspaper.
“This is a free-speech issue,” Baniak said. “The state should not be attempting to dictate what kind of column can or can’t be printed in a newspaper.”
Rosemond, 65, is no stranger to criticism, but he said he is not aware of any instance when his advice caused harm in his 37 years of writing the column.
“Because I don’t march to the beat of the party line, I am something of a lightning rod for controversy,” he said.
Rosemond was reprimanded in 1988 by the N.C. Psychology Board after he suggested that a child no longer needed therapy because it wasn’t working.
In 1992, he ran afoul of the board again when he advised that an 18-month-old wouldn’t need therapy to deal with sexual abuse because the child wouldn’t remember the abuse. In that case, he signed a consent agreement with the North Carolina board to have his column reviewed before publication for three years by someone with a doctorate-level psychology degree.
“In both cases, I feel like I was giving good advice to people,” Rosemond said Tuesday.
Rosemond said he voluntarily continued the supervision of his column until March 2013, when he decided it was no longer needed.
He received a master’s degree in psychology from Western Illinois University in 1971 and was licensed by North Carolina in 1979.
He sees a limited number of patients, but he also travels frequently, giving speeches more than 100 times a year. Rosemond has authored 15 books in addition to his column, which is the longest-running single-author advice column in the country.