North Carolina Free Speech

Cooksey v. Futrell, et al.
Caveman Blogger Fights for Free Speech and Internet Freedom

Paleo blogger Steve Cooksey
. IJ client Steve Cooksey
Paleo blogger internet speech video
Watch a brief video clip on this lawsuit


Can the government throw you in jail for offering advice on the Internet about what food people should buy at the grocery store?

That is exactly the claim made by the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition. In December 2011, diabetic blogger Steve Cooksey started a Dear Abby-style advice column on his popular blog ( to answer reader questions. One month later, the State Board informed Steve that he could not give readers advice on diet, whether for free or for compensation, because doing so constituted the unlicensed, and thus criminal, practice of dietetics. The State Board also told Steve that his private emails and telephone calls with readers and friends were illegal, as was his paid life-coaching service. The State Board went through Steve's writings with a red pen, indicating what he may and may not say without a government-issued license.

But the First Amendment does not allow the government to ban people from sharing ordinary advice about diet, or scrub the Internet—from blogs to Facebook to Twitter—of speech the government does not like. North Carolina can no more force Steve to become a licensed dietitian than it could require Dear Abby to become a licensed psychologist.

That is why on May 30, 2012, Steve Cooksey joined the Institute for Justice in filing a major free speech lawsuit against the State Board in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division. In February 2015, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition surrendered and issued new guidelines making clear that Steve and other speakers like him have the right, for free or for pay, to offer advice and guidance on nutritional issues.

Essential Background

Images and Media

Background: Caveman Blogger Fights for Free Speech and Internet Freedom; Challenging the Government’s Authority to Censor Ordinary Advice 

Client Photo

Case Video

Latest Release: Victory for ‘Caveman’ Blogger in Free Speech Fight (February 18, 2015) 

Legal Briefs and Decisions

IJ Opening Brief (PDF)

Brief of Appellees (PDF)

Launch Release: Major First Amendment Lawsuit Challenges Censorship of Dietary Advice (May 30, 2012)

IJ Reply Brief (PDF)

Fourth Circuit Opinion (PDF)

Amicus Curiae ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation in Support of Plaintiff-Appellant and Reversal (PDF)


Case Timeline

 Filed Complaint: 

May 30, 2012

 Court Filed:

U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina


None Available

 Current Court:

U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina


In discovery

 Next Key Date:


Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: Free Speech Victory: Court Reinstates Caveman Blogger’s First Amendment Challenge (June 27, 2013)

 none available

Release: Court Dismisses Caveman Blogger’s Free Speech Challenge; Holds Line-By-Line Censorship Does Not Trigger First Amendment Protection (October 9, 2012)

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: A win for amateurs News & Record (February 25, 2015)
Article: Blogger says he's feels vindicated in free speech fight Associated Press (AP) - Charlotte Bureau (February 20, 2015)
Article: Should Tour Guides Be Licensed? Newsweek (November 27, 2014)
Article: Should Giving Diet Advice Be Against the Law? August 15, 2013
Article: Stage Agency Censored Online Health Food Advice Column CBS Charlotte May 30, 2012

Article: Caveman Blogger Fights for Free Speech and Internet Freedom Mark's Daily Apple May 30, 2012
Article & Video Interview: Steve Cooksey Sues the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition in Federal Court: 1st Amendment; Free Speech blog May 29, 2012

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