Ron Hines, a Texas-licensed veterinarian, loves animals. He didn't want to stop helping dogs, cats and other pets after he suffered a debilitating injury in 2002 that limited his ability to conduct a regular practice. So he turned to the Internet to put his skills to the use of pet owners around the world with no access to traditional pet care.
Dr. Hines' website drew a broad audience, including a woman in Turkey whom Dr. Hines assisted in developing a cat-food recipe for her iodine-deficient cat. A woman performing AIDS-relief work in rural Nigeria had nowhere else to turn when her pet became sick. An impoverished man in New Hampshire who lost both legs in an industrial accident didn't have enough money to take his beloved dog to a vet, so he asked Dr. Hines for help. In the eyes of the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, this made Dr. Hines a criminal.
It's not that his advice is bad; Dr. Hines is very good at what he does. Nor is he gouging his customers. He either charges nothing or a flat rate of $58 to help cover expenses. He's assisted more than 700 pet owners without making more than $2,800 in any one year.
But the beastly bureaucrats are upset because the advice Dr. Hines dispenses threatens the veterinary cartel. When Texans can turn to the Internet for help, they're less likely to schedule an expensive office visit at the local vet. The special pleaders persuaded Texas legislators to enact a law requiring physical inspection of an animal before dispensing advice about it.
The veterinary board moved last month to muzzle Dr. Hines by suspending his license, imposing a fine and forcing him to take portions of the veterinary licensing exam again without citing a single example of harm to any animal treated under his direction. With the help of the Institute for Justice, Dr. Hines bit back with a federal lawsuit challenging the board's action as a violation of his First Amendment rights.
Important principles are at stake. Consumers turn to the Internet for advice on car repairs, hair care, the law, medicine, finances, diet and many other fields that are heavily regulated by the state. Courts shouldn't allow regulatory bodies to create speech barriers that limit access to information.
Dr. Hines is not alone as a target of a professional cartel. In North Carolina, Steve Cooksey is a diabetic who discovered he could control his disease by eating what he called a "paleo diet" the simple food choices of our ancestors: meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts. Mr. Cooksey began blogging about his personal success and drew the attention of North Carolina's Board of Dietetics and Nutrition, which claimed Mr. Cooksey was "practicing nutrition" an activity that requires a license. (Don't restaurant critics practice "nutrition," too? What about mothers who tell their plump daughters to go on a diet?) The board threatened to sue Mr. Cooksey unless he rewrote his online journal covering three years, deleting references to anything that encouraged others to follow his path. If the paleo blogger fails to do so, he faces up to 120 days in jail. Mr. Cooksey asked the courts for relief.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court may have to weigh in on whether free-speech rights can be limited by busybody regulatory bodies and professional organizations out to make a buck.
The Washington Times
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