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Kentucky psychology board targets advice columnist. Free speech violation?

Lawyers for the syndicated advice columnist say his federal lawsuit against Kentucky gets to the heart of free speech rights and whether they can be trumped by occupational licensing laws.

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This photo provided by the Institute for Justice shows syndicated parenting columnist John Rosemond. A Virginia-based legal institute is filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of Rosemond who says the state of Kentucky is trying to censor him.

Institute for Justice/AP

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When John Rosemond answered some parents’ query about how to handle their “highly spoiled underachiever” son in his syndicated parenting advice column, he thought it was fairly routine.

But the column – in which he advised the parents to strip the boy’s room down to essentials, take away electronic devices, and suspend privileges until he could start improving his grades – caused a small firestorm in Kentucky that he didn’t anticipate.

The issue, according to the Kentucky Board of Examiners of Psychology, is that by offering such one-on-one advice, Mr. Rosemond is engaging in the “practice of psychology” – something he is not entitled to do in the state since he lacks a Kentucky license. The board also objected to the newspaper identifying Rosemond as a family psychologist, since his North Carolina credentials don’t apply in Kentucky.

Now Rosemond has filed a lawsuit in federal court to bar Kentucky from taking such action against him. The case, says his lawyers, has implications far beyond Rosemond’s parenting column, but gets to the heart of free speech rights and whether they can be trumped by occupational licensing laws.

“This case is about censorship. If one thing is clear under the US Constitution, it’s that the government can’t censor opinions in a newspaper,” says Jeff Rowes, a lawyer at the Institute for Justice, which has taken on Rosemond’s case and several related ones. “Occupational licensing laws are the new censors. They’re aggressive, and they don’t think the First Amendment applies to them.”

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