- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

McLEAN, Va. (AP) - The state of Kentucky’s effort to censor a newspaper advice column because its author is not a state-licensed psychologist amounts to an unconstitutional restriction of free speech, a federal judge has ruled.

The ruling issued late Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove in Frankfort, Kentucky, resolves a two-year legal battle by parenting columnist John Rosemond, who frequently dispenses old-school advice and advocates a return to parenting styles of the ‘50s.

The state’s Board of Examiners of Psychology had told Rosemond to stop identifying himself as a psychologist, and questioned his column’s occasional use of a question-and-answer format because it said that was akin to offering direct mental health services.

Rosemond, who is a licensed psychologist in his home state of North Carolina, sued with assistance from the Arlington, Virginia-based Institute for Justice in federal court to stop the board from taking action against him.

The judge ruled that Rosemond’s First Amendment rights outweigh the state’s claim that people could potentially be harmed if Rosemond were allowed to offer parenting advice unchecked.

“Rosemond is entitled to express his views and the fact that he is not a Kentucky-licensed psychologist does not change that fact,” Van Tatenhove wrote. “All he did was write a column providing parenting advice to an audience of newspaper subscribers. To permit the state to halt this lawful expression would result in a harm far more concrete and damaging to society than the speculative harm which the State purportedly seeks to avoid.”

The judge wrote that if the board were allowed to censor Rosemond, “it is difficult to understand how Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and countless other self-help gurus would not also be in the Government’s crosshairs.”

Paul Sherman, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that frequently attacks what it sees as excessive occupational licensing rules, called the ruling a “total vindication of John Rosemond’s right to give ordinary parenting advice” and said the ruling could be crucial in the emerging issue of whether occupational licensing laws can trump First Amendment rights.

Ricki Gardenhire, a spokeswoman for Kentucky’s Public Protection Cabinet, under which the psychology board falls, said the ruling is under review and had no comment on whether the state would appeal.

Rosemond, whose syndicated column has run since 1976, said he believes the ruling will benefit the consumer, because it ensures that they can have a broad range of options in seeking psychological advice.

While he is a licensed psychologist, Rosemond is openly skeptical of the field. He says that research has never validated any particular psychological therapy or theory, and that there’s no reason to think that a psychologist gives any better advice on parenting than anyone else.

The board sent Rosemond a cease-and-desist letter in 2013 after it received a complaint about a column in which he advised parents seeking to rein in an overly indulged teenager to take away his privileges, and strip bare the walls of his bedroom, until his grades and behavior improved.

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