Constitutional Law

Food Blogger Sues, Says NC License Requirement Chills His 1st Amendment Rights

Steve Cooksey enjoyed giving advice as a nutrition blogger, until the state of North Carolina got into the picture.

By telling others what to eat on his Diabetes Warrior blog, he was breaking a criminal law that requires providers of “nutrition care services” to be licensed, he was told by the executive director of the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition.

While he could provide information and talk about his own beliefs, he couldn’t “assess” and “counsel” others, she told him. Thus, suggesting that others eat and exercise as he does at least arguably violates the law, reports the New York Times (reg. req.).

Cooksey disagreed. But he also made requested changes–and filed suit in federal district court in Charlotte, N.C. contending that the state’s interference violated his constitutional rights, the article says. He is represented by the Institute for Justice.

“Steve’s advice ultimately amounts to recommendations about what to buy at the grocery store—more steaks and avocados and less pasta, for example,” his lawyers told the court in a filing, adding: “The First Amendment simply does not allow North Carolina to criminalize something as commonplace as advice about diet.”

In a statement posted on its website, the board says its position has been misrepresented in news coverage and, it appears, Cooksey’s suit.

Responding to a complaint in January 2012, as it is required to do, the board investigated, contacted Cooksey with its concerns, invited him to discuss any issues he had and, receiving no response, sent him a certified letter saying that it was satisfied he is in compliance with the licensing law, the statement explains.

There is no current action ongoing against Cooksey and any determination to pursue the matter criminally would be made by a state prosecutor, it continues.

“Of his own volition, upon being informed of the complaint against him, Mr. Cooksey made changes to his site, including, making his disclaimer that he is not a licensed dietitian/nutritionist more prominent and taking down his diabetes support packages,” the statement says.

“Later, Mr. Cooksey was sent a document detailing some of the Board’s concerns regarding his past interactions with some of his followers, however, this document was sent attached to an email that stated, ‘[g]iven our discussion, I believe our comments should make sense, however, should you disagree, I am happy to discuss.’ Mr. Cooksey never contacted the NCBDN to discuss these comments. The NCBDN never ordered Mr. Cooksey to make any changes to his website..”

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