Podcast: Call It What You Want

Is requiring someone to have a license to call themselves a certain type of professional–like a psychologist–a violation of freedom of speech?  In this episode, we talk to Mary Louise Serafine, who made that argument in front of the Fifth Circuit, and won.

Episode 9: Summary

In this episode of The First Five, lawyer and psychologist Mary Louise Serafine discusses her fight against the Texas state laws that forbade her from identifying herself as a psychologist because she didn’t have a Texas license.  Mary Lou has a post-doctoral fellowship in psychology from Yale (where she also taught psychology), and for a number of years had a practice where she held group talk therapy sessions for people in mid-life going through divorces.

Her legal case arose after she had stopped practicing psychology and was in the middle of running for the Texas State Senate.  On her campaign website, she referred to herself as a psychologist–and was quickly told to “cease and desist” by the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists.  Mary Lou challenged this action for violating her First Amendment rights.  The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found in her favor.  Their decision was partly based on the fact that Mary Lou wasn’t identifying herself as a psychologist in her dealings with clients, or while advertising for more business; she was using the word to describe herself in her political campaign, which the court took to be “political speech.”  Political speech is traditionally much more protected than “professional speech” or “commercial speech.”

Mary Lou herself takes issue with the concept of putting speech into different categories, and discusses how difficult it can be to determine whether something is “professional speech”–especially a profession like psychology, where there’s no universal definition of what the practice is (by some standards, running a Weight Watchers meeting or writing an advice column could qualify as “practicing psychology”).


Lata Nott is the Executive Director of the First Amendment Center at the Newseum Institute.


Mary Louise Serafine is a lawyer and psychologist based in Austin, Texas.


To learn more about Mary Louise Serafine’s case, read the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Serafine v. Branaman.  Not in the mood to read a legal opinion?  Check out Mary Lou’s website, as well as Professor Eugene Volokh’s analysis of the opinion.

Want to learn more about the distinctions between political, commercial, and professional speech?  Check out the First Amendment Center’s overview of the subject.


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