LLOYD GRAY: Advice without a license

Lloyd Gray

Lloyd Gray

Many years ago, a legislator who’d been insulted in print by a reporter took to the floor of the Mississippi House of Representatives to defend his honor.

“A lawyer has to be licensed. A barber has to be licensed. An undertaker has to be licensed. But any moron with a ball-point pen can be a journalist,” he lamented.

The representative never followed through on his idea for the state to license journalists. Being a licensed lawyer himself he probably realized that it wouldn’t get very far, given the inconvenience of the First Amendment.

Psychologists in Kentucky apparently have no such qualms. In news from the “you’ve got to be kidding” department, the Kentucky Board of Examiners of Psychology and the office of state Attorney General Jack Conway are attempting to squelch publication of John Rosemond’s parental advice column in that state through a cease-and-desist order on the grounds that he’s practicing psychology without a state license. Rosemond has responded by filing a federal lawsuit against the board.

It won’t surprise readers of Rosemond’s column in the Daily Journal that the particular column to which the state objects, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader, advises parents to crack down on their 17-year-old “highly spoiled underachiever.” Rosemond’s advice: “As you now realize, your son is in dire need of a major wakeup call. Start by stripping his room to bare essentials, taking away any and all electronic devices, and suspending all of his privileges, including driving.”

This was too much for the Kentucky psychology police to take. One psychologist who complained to the state board called the advice “unprofessional and unethical,” saying that while his suggestions might do some good, “they could also create some serious problems for the youth and family in question.”

I’m sure the 17-year-old would readily agree, at least with the part about creating problems for him. Which, if you read Rosemond regularly, you know is precisely the intent.

Rosemond’s advice sometimes can be a bit over the top. But on the whole, his common sense approach is a welcome antidote to the parental over-indulgence that he often points out has created more maladjusted children and frustrated parents than ever.

Rosemond emphasizes parental authority as paramount to raising happy, well-adjusted children. That goes against the grain, and conventional child psychologists can’t stand the way he regularly takes shots at them. He tells parents to pay more attention to the echoes of their grandmother’s advice than to today’s child-rearing experts. That stings.

So the psychologist licensure board in Kentucky wants to shut him up, and to heck with Rosemond’s First Amendment rights, or the right of newspapers like the Lexington Herald-Leader to publish his column.

Why not go after Dear Abby next? Who licensed her to dispense advice, much of it equally psychological? What about Heloise? She’s not licensed to hand out those hints of hers by any public health or safety agency. Who’s to say she’s not endangering people’s safety by encouraging them to cut toothpaste tubes in half to clear out the crevices?

“Occupational licensing boards are the new censors,” Rosemond’s attorney, Paul Sherman, told the Herald-Leader. “They are aggressive and they don’t think the First Amendment applies to them.”

Witness the North Carolina blogger who can’t offer low-carb diet advice because he’s not a licensed dietitian or the Texas veterinarian whose license was suspended when he offered advice online to someone he hadn’t met – both cases, like Rosemond’s, of overzealous high-handedness at best, and likely violations of a basic constitutional right.

Anybody with a ball-point pen – or a keyboard – better watch out. Expressing an opinion without a license may get you in trouble.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.