In the case of Hines v. Alldredge the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit sided with Texas regulators to prevent a veterinarian from giving free advice by email to pet owners around the world. The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) filed an amicus brief today, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
Dr. Ronald Hines has been a highly sought veterinarian who was kind enough to volunteer to give free advice by email and phone to pet owners as far away as rural Nigeria, AAPS states. State regulators in Austin, Texas, did not approve, and they came down hard on Dr. Hines with the terrifying power of government. They took action against his veterinary license, and insisted that he stop helping people in hard-to-visit places of the world. They complained that Dr. Hines was giving free advice without seeing the pet first.
Dr. Hines never prescribed medicine, but merely communicated with pet owners who sought his advice, which he often gave freely, AAPS notes.
The issue is whether a professional loses his First Amendment rights when he obtains a license, AAPS explains. Friends and family members often give free advice to pet owners, with the full protection of the First Amendment. Why should pet owners be denied access to the advice of a trained veterinarian?
This censorship harms everyone, AAPS argues. Moreover, the government should be encouraging charity, not suppressing it, especially for people in remote, poor countries like Nigeria, who cannot afford to bring an animal to a veterinarian.
“By upholding a State regulation of speech based on the identity of the speaker, the Fifth Circuit panel ruled contrary to precedents of” the U.S. Supreme Court, argues AAPS General Counsel Andrew Schlafly in the brief. “If a homeless person can say it, then so can a highly trained professional.”
A First Amendment right “to hear, to learn, to know,” was expressly recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kleindienst v. Mandel. When the State censors a professional, then there is an infringement on the constitutional rights of both the speaker and his audience, Schlafly states.
“When state regulators discipline professionals for giving free advice that lay persons would have every right to express, it has a chilling effect on communication, to the detriment of patients and professionals alike,” stated Jane Orient, M.D., executive director of AAPS
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is a national membership organization representing physicians in all specialties, founded in 1943 to preserve private medicine and the patient-physician relationship.
PDF of amicus brief available here: http://www.aapsonline.org/judicial/aaps-hines-amicus-7-28-2015.pdf