Is Blogging Protected by the First Amendment? Steve Cooksey Thinks So!

Click HERE to ask "Abby" a question!

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

-1st Amendment to the Bill of Rights

Wait a minute, is "Dear Abby" practicing Psychological Counseling?  Is she illegally "diagnosing" and "assessing" without a license?

The question itself seems laughable.  No one thinks that Abby (aka Abigail Van Buren, aka Jeanne Phillips) is a licensed Psychologist, Psychiatrist, or Mental Health Counselor.  It is equally unlikely that the people who write in to her syndicated column are looking for more than her particular brand of "common sense" and "youthful perspective".  However, in North Carolina, a blogger named Steve Cooksey, who was offering advice and support to people who wanted to learn how a whole food "Paleo" diet could help them treat their diabetes (something he himself successfully did) was targeted by a Nutrition and Dietetics board for "practicing without a license".

I interviewed Steve for Paleo Magazine right after the complaint against him was withdrawn as he complied with the boards request, modifying his website and removing content that was identified as "illegal".

"At this point, where do things stand? On the NCBD website, they posted that they had withdrawn their complaint.

Essentially, they are saying that I am in compliance with state law and that they have withdrawn the original complaint. In my opinion, the state has restricted my free speech. I can’t say, “You are diabetic and I think you should eat less than 30 grams of carbs per day until your blood sugar is normalized.” I’m not allowed to say that. Now, your doctor is most likely not going to say that, your diabetes educator is not going to say that, somebody needs to say that.

Did the NCBD discriminate between free advice and for-profit advice?

The state does not care if I am charging or not. All of the advice referred to in the NCBD review was free. People were emailing me, and I was answering questions for free. Over and over again, they said, “No Steve this is ‘assessing a medical problem’. No Steve, this is providing ‘nutritional guidance’. No Steve, this is ‘giving nutritional advice’.”

At this time, are you no longer under investigation?

I wouldn’t phrase it that way, I’m not a nutritionist, but I’m also not an attorney! The article said that the current complaint has been closed, but it also states that they will continue to monitor the situation.

If they found something else that they took issue with, could they reopen the investigation and pursue further charges?

Absolutely.

Are you pursuing legal action of your own?

I am in compliance, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with it. I feel like my rights have been restricted and I’m going to do everything that I can to fight this. I don’t want to comment on anything specifically, but i am exploring all my options."

(You can read the full interview HERE)

Since talking with Steve, he hasn't given up his fight.  His case has been picked up by the Institute for Justice, a law firm that describes itself as "our nation's only libertarian public interest law firm".  Specializing in cases where "basic rights are denied by the government--like the right to earn an honest living, private property rights, and the right to free speech", the group hopes to challenge the laws that restrict private individuals from offering dietary and nutritional advice.

While some might argue that anyone who isn't a medical doctor, dietician, or nutritionist should not be assessing or counseling on diet, it is hard to argue in favor for the type of advice most people receive from their doctor or dietician.  Such professionals will always benefit from the authority that their titles garner, and they make a substantial income because of it, but that doesn't give them the right to monopolize information.

As a Personal Trainer, I frequently "assess" the physical condition of clients and "prescribe" exercises to help them improve their well-being.  However, I do not get compensated like a Physical Therapist and my services are not covered by health insurance.  My clients are required to sign a liability waiver and to get medical clearance from their doctor before engaging in any physical activity, shouldn't the same apply to "dietary training"?  I also pay for liability insurance as it is a prerequisite for my employment.  Should I be prohibited from doing this?  Is a four year college degree in Exercise Science / Psychology as well as numerous certifications and multiple years of personal and professional experience in the field of fitness and exercise moot?

The government protects the rights of food companies to sell us products that make us sick with diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and a litany of other devastating maladies, but we are not protected in our right to talk about doing something about it.  As the Institute for Justice says, it is time for citizens to challenge government "when it stands in the way of people trying to earn an honest living, when it unconstitutionally takes away individuals' property, when bureaucrats instead of parents dictate the education of children, and when government stifles speech."

This is far from condoning reckless and wanton behavior.  If someone were offer imprudent dietary advice that lead to the death or disability of a client they would be liable just as a financial planner who convinced clients to participate in a Ponzi scheme

If you believe in the notion of a "rule of law under which individuals can control their destinies as free and responsible members of society." Then visit the Institute for Justice channel on YouTube.com and lend your support by sharing their videos or by making a financial contribution.  You can also visit Steve's site at Diabetes-Warrior.net.

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About Tony Fed

Tony is the host of the Paleo Magazine Radio podcast, author of "Paleo Grilling: A Modern Caveman's Guide to Cooking with Fire", and Cofounder of Powerful PT, an innovative information resource for Fitness Professionals. He has appeared on numerous local and national television and radio broadcasts and regularly hosts healthy cooking workshops and informational lectures. He is also a full-time Personal Trainer and Wellness Consultant who lives in Jacksonville Florida with his wife Jamie.
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