Family

Federal judge rules in favor of columnist John Rosemond in lawsuit against psychology board

John Rosemond, nationally syndicated advice columnist photographed  at the Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., on July 16, 2013. Photo by  Pablo Alcala     Staff
John Rosemond, nationally syndicated advice columnist photographed at the Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., on July 16, 2013. Photo by Pablo Alcala Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

A federal judge found an effort by the Kentucky Board of Examiners of Psychology to censor the parenting advice of nationally syndicated newspaper columnist John Rosemond to be unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove ruled Wednesday that the board had "unconstitutionally applied" state regulations to Rosemond's advice column. Van Tatenhove also permanently enjoined the board from "enforcing these laws in an unconstitutional manner against Rosemond or others similarly situated."

"Needless to say, I am overjoyed, not just for myself but for my public and the consumer in general," Rosemond, 67, said Thursday in a telephone interview. "It was a 100 percent repudiation of their (the board's) position."

"The ruling we got from the federal court in Kentucky is absolutely unequivocal, that the kind of ordinary advice people exchange on a daily basis is fully protected by the First Amendment and it cannot be censored by occupational licensing laws," said Paul Sherman, the senior attorney at the Virginia-based Institute for Justice. He argued the case on behalf of Rosemond.

Calls to the office of the Board of Examiners of Psychology in Frankfort indicated that a message line was full and was not accepting additional messages. Assistant Deputy Attorney General Brian Judy, who argued the case on behalf of the board, could not be immediately reached for comment.

The origins of the case date to Feb. 12, 2013, when the Lexington Herald-Leader ran one of Rosemond's columns, "Living with Children." Rosemond advised that the teen, who he referred to as a "highly spoiled underachiever," was "in dire need of a major wake-up call."

He described what actions might be taken, including taking away electronic devices and suspending his privileges until he improved his grades. The article bore the tagline: "Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his website at Rosemond.com." This is typical of the taglines affixed to Rosemond's articles.

After Rosemond's article ran, a complaint was filed with the Kentucky Board of Examiners of Psychology. The complainant, a formerly licensed Kentucky psychologist, characterized Rosemond's advice as "unprofessional and unethical." He also expressed concern that Rosemond claimed to be a psychologist when he wasn't licensed in Kentucky.

Rosemond filed a federal lawsuit against the Kentucky agency after it attempted to block publication of his column in the state. He and his attorneys claimed that the board violated his First Amendment right to free speech by unlawfully trying to censor his column, which pushes an anti-pampering approach to parenting.

It is against Kentucky law to practice psychology without a state license, or to use the title "psychologist" without having a state license. Rosemond does not hold a Kentucky license, but he is a licensed psychological associate in North Carolina. He is routinely identified as a "family psychologist" in a note at the end of his columns.

"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 in his ruling. "If the facts were different, had Rosemond represented himself to be a Kentucky-licensed psychologist or had he actually entered into a client-patient relationship in Kentucky, the outcome might be different.

"In the case at hand, he did not," the judge 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, and perhaps that is the 'wake up' call best drawn from the facts of this case."

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