D. Dowd Muska


Psychology Cartelists vs. Free Speech

October 10, 2013

John Rosemond is America’s guru of old-school parenting.

For decades, the North Carolina-based family psychologist has combated indulgent kid care. Rosemond is all about discipline and consequences. Helicopter parenting? Being “best friends” with your children? He’ll have none of that.

The author of several bestselling books, Rosemond frequently appears on radio and television programs, and writes a weekly column for McClatchy-Tribune. Back in February, he responded to a plea for help with a “highly spoiled underachiever.” Acknowledging their role in raising a high-school junior who was “failing two classes and borderline in the rest,” the teen’s desperate mother and father pledged their readiness to “do some drastic things.”

Rosemond recommended that the punk’s room be stripped “down to bare essentials, taking away any and all electronic devices,” and that “all … his privileges, including driving” be suspended until he “improved his grades to no less than what he’s capable of and sustained the improvement for eight weeks.”

Sound advice. But in Kentucky, offering it was illegal.

When Rosemond’s brat-busting column ran in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Thomas Kerby Neill penned a letter of complaint to the Kentucky Board of Examiners of Psychology. The retired head-shrinker and Lexington resident grumbled that Rosemond’s advice was “unprofessional and unethical,” and could make “an already depressed child become more depressed.” Besides, the columnist wasn’t licensed in the Bluegrass State. Thus, Neill requested that the Board “ask newspapers carrying Mr. Rosemond’s column in Kentucky to either discontinue using the term ‘psychologist’ to describe Mr. Rosemond, or to carry a disclaimer that states, ‘Mr. Rosemond has not met the professional criteria to call himself a psychologist in the state of Kentucky.’”

Whether based on a personal vendetta against Rosemond or a surfeit of free time, Neill’s tantrum should have been tossed into the Board’s circular file.

It wasn’t.

In May, Rosemond got a letter from Kentucky’s attorney general, informing him that state law “restricts the practice of psychology and the use of protected words such as ‘psychologist’ only to those persons credentialed” by the Board. The columnist had three weeks to sign and return a “Cease and Desist Affidavit and Assurance of Voluntary Compliance.” The document stipulated that he would never again practice psychology in Kentucky without “a valid credential from the Board,” nor “use in Kentucky the term ‘psychologist,’ ‘psychological,’ or any term specified in [statute] or any title or description of services in a manner that implies or would reasonably be deemed to imply that [he is] licensed in Kentucky as a psychologist.”

Practical considerations alone make yielding to the dictate difficult. Rosemond doesn’t distribute his work to Kentucky newspapers -- McClatchy-Tribune does. Neither does he control which newspapers in the state run the column. Besides, what about the used bookstores that sell his titles? And the interviews he’ll give elsewhere -- whether on television or radio -- that might make their way into Kentuckians’ ears? However unintentional, Rosemond’s one-man crime wave cannot be controlled!

Furthermore, if Rosemond is guilty of illegally engaging in the “practice of psychology” in the state, what about Dr. Phil? Dr. Laura? Dr. Ruth? Dr. Drew? They have audiences in Kentucky, yet are not licensed there. Shouldn’t cease-and-desist actions be taken against them, too?

Unwilling to knuckle under to bureaucratic thuggery, Rosemond sued. The Institute for Justice is representing the columnist. Their case against the attorney general’s office and the Board is simple: “Defendants’ actions are unconstitutional because the First Amendment does not allow the government to censor newspaper opinion columns on the basis of their content. Nor does the First Amendment allow the government to prohibit anyone from making a truthful statement such as ‘John Rosemond is a family psychologist.’”

Rosemond’s battle is not an anomaly. The Institute represents many professionals and entrepreneurs who have been targeted by state boards and commissions that prefer cartel-preservation over free speech. In D.C., Segway-mounted tour guides are suing over the requirement that they obtain a city license. In Dallas, a hair-braiding instructor is resisting the mandate that she become a state-licensed barber. In North Carolina, a paleo-diet blogger is fighting possible prosecution for “assessing and counseling” on nutrition.

Occupational licensing is problematic on its own. The claim that it guarantees delivery of quality services is flimsy -- think educrats -- and as economist Morris Kleiner told The Wall Street Journal, it’s often a tool to “restrict competition and obtain higher wages.”

But when vocational bureaucracies violate a scared civil liberty, it’s time for legal action. Unlimited government is about to receive some tough love from John Rosemond.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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