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Columnist John Rosemond sues over dispute with Kentucky board

By Matthew Barakat
Associated Press

John Rosemond has been dispensing parenting advice in his newspaper column since 1976, making him one of the longest-running syndicated columnists in the country.

But some Kentucky authorities want to put him in a time out.

In May, Kentucky’s attorney general and its Board of Examiners of Psychology told Rosemond his parenting column – which regularly offers old-school advice and shows little tolerance for any kind of parental coddling – amounts to the illegal practice of psychology.

They want him to agree to a cease-and-desist order. In particular, they want Rosemond to stop identifying himself as a psychologist because he is not a licensed psychologist in Kentucky. They also suggest that columns written in a question-and-answer format are a particular concern because they are akin to providing direct mental health services.

Rosemond, an author of 11 parenting books who has a master’s degree in psychology from Western Illinois and is a licensed psychologist in his home state of North Carolina, sees the board’s letter as an effort at censorship and was expected to file a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court seeking to bar the state from taking any action against him.

His column is syndicated through McClatchy-Tribune News services and is estimated to run in more than 200 newspapers, including the Observer. He lives in Gastonia.

Rosemond is represented by the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, which has filed multiple lawsuits challenging what they see as overreach by government licensing boards.

What about Dr. Phil?

Institute for Justice lawyer Paul Sherman says that under Kentucky’s logic, columnists like Dear Abby and television personalities like Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz are breaking the law any time they offer advice, because the content is aired in Kentucky and meets the state’s broad definition of psychological advice.

The institute has filed a variety of challenges to state and federal laws they say are designed to shield special-interest occupations from competition.

The Kentucky board’s actions against Rosemond are particularly egregious, Sherman said, because the state is seeking to regulate a psychologist outside its own borders and because the rules it seeks to enforce are so broad that they could easily interfere with all manner of free speech.

“This is one of the most important questions unanswered by the Supreme Court: Can occupational licensing laws trump the First Amendment? We’re looking forward to getting an answer,” Sherman said.

The current dispute began when a retired Kentucky psychologist wrote to the state’s Board of Examiners of Psychology complaining about a column Rosemond wrote in February, in which he advised parents seeking advice on reining in an overly indulged teenager to take away his privileges, and strip bare the walls of his bedroom, until his grades and behavior improved.

The psychology board did not respond to calls and emails from The Associated Press seeking comment. The office of Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat, referred questions to the psychology board.

Editor plans no changes

The psychologist who complained to the board, T. Kerby Neill of Lexington, said his goal was to get the Lexington newspaper to stop referring to Rosemond as a psychologist because North Carolina’s licensing standards are not as strict as Kentucky’s. While Neill said he does not believe Rosemond should be giving specific advice to people he has not personally examined, he said he never sought for the board to try to regulate the content or format of Rosemond’s columns.

Peter Baniak, editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, which ran the column that prompted the psychology board’s letter, said Monday that the paper intends to continue publishing the column.

“I would find it troubling for a state board to suggest or think it has the ability to say what should or shouldn’t run in an advice column,” Baniak said.

Rosemond, 65, is confident his lawsuit will succeed.

“I just feel it’s a good fight,” Rosemond said. “I’m a constitutional conservative, and I’m outraged by the attempt of government agencies to do this sort of thing.”

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