(CN) - A Kentucky psychiatry board cannot censor the nation's longest-running newspaper columnist for providing advice as a "family psychologist," a federal judge ruled.
John Rosemond, whose Dear Abby-style parenting column is syndicated in more than 200 newspapers, claims he received a threatening cease-and-desist letter from the Kentucky Board of Examiners of Psychology on May 7, 2013.
Rosemond, dubbed a family psychologist in his byline, holds a master's degree in psychology and is licensed to practice North Carolina, but is not qualified to provide psychological services to Kentucky residents, according to the board.
The letter, signed by Assistant Attorney General Brian Judy, further alleged Rosemond's advice that parents of a deadbeat teen confiscate their son's cell phone as a "wake-up call," amounted to professional services rendered.
The article, published February 12 in the Lexington Herald-Leader, prompted a complaint from a former board psychologist who criticized Rosemond as "unprofessional and unethical," according to court filings.
The board provided Rosemond an opportunity to stop publishing his column in Kentucky voluntarily - an ultimatum which Rosemond says jeopardizes his free speech.
On September 30, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove sided with Rosemond.
Because the columnist's readers send questions anonymously, his advice is neither professional nor commercial in nature, and therefore cannot embody the "personal nexus between professional and client," Van Tatenhove wrote, barring the board from further interference with publication of Rosemond's column.
"Rosemond's speech deserves the highest level of constitutional protection,"
the judge said.
"To permit the state to halt this lawful expression would result in a harm 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," he continued.
Chip Mellor, president of the Institute of Justice, which represented Rosemond, described Van Tatenhove's ruling as "one of the strongest decisions a federal court has ever issued in defense of speech that the government tries to restrict with an occupational-licensing law."
"Judge Van Tatenhove's decision reflects judicial engagement. Unlike other federal courts across the country, he recognized that the government does not get a free pass when it attempts to restrict speech using occupational-licensing laws," Chip Mellor said. "That dedication to evaluating each case with a careful eye is something that all courts should emulate."
Rosemond himself expressed gratitude for the decision.
"If the government could censor a nationally syndicated columnist like me, there would be no limit on the sources of parenting advice it could outlaw,"
he said. "Thankfully, this ruling ensures that parents have the right to decide for themselves where they want to get parenting advice."
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.