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Chicagoland Thu Jul 16 2009
Answer: When the government says so.
An Illinois state law could prevent a Skokie man from calling himself an engineer despite an engineering background of 50 years, 123 patents, and work on cameras that accompanied astronauts to the moon.
On July 8th, Judge Mary K. Rochford of Cook County Circuit Court heard oral arguments brought by attorneys for Burton Siegal in an emergency hearing that could make or break legal precedent on free speech rights reaching far beyond the engineering field.
At stake: Government regulation of the use of words.
Most people would shudder at the very idea of laws governing speech, but in reality, it happens all the time...and we're fine with it. Consider the fines levied against CBS when Janet Jackson experienced her infamous wardrobe malfunction during the 2005 Superbowl, or those pesky bleeps you hear every time Cartman on South Park utters words you know anyway.
The accepted basis for this approved form of censorship is for the protection of people, whether pure of heart (children), or weak of heart (the elderly). But politicians also claim they should regulate words for the general welfare. We wouldn't want just anyone calling himself a doctor, teacher or engineer, right?
Herein lies the logistical problem with government regulating words. Besides being a violation of the right to free expression, there's no way government rules could possibly keep up with the evolution of language in society. There are doctors and teachers of many fields and different specialties, just as there are political engineers, social engineers, and genetic engineers, all of whom do not need to be licensed to perform or advertise their professions.
It would be fair to say that Burton Siegal is an engineer who practices engineering. And, considering his experience in serving customers for half a century, it would be fair for him to continue advertising his business as Budd Engineering.
Not according to the folks at the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. They argue Siegal must stop using the word "engineering" in the name of his business because he is not a licensed professional engineer. They say the Professional Engineering Practice Act regulates the word "engineer," not simply who may use the descriptor "professional engineer."
Design News magazine covered the case last September when Siegal and his lawyers were beginning the process of preventing the issuing of a cease-and-desist order against him for using the word "engineering."
Following the events of last week, however, the case is still in the purview of the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation's administrative hearings.
Siegal's lawyer Anthony Sanders argued last week that the circuit court should grant an emergency injunction of the prosecution due to the constitutional challenge he is bringing. Questions of constitutionality cannot be factored into the judgment of the administrative hearing, and the prospect of changing the name of Budd Engineering would have an immediate negative impact on Siegal's livelihood.
Unfortunately, Judge Rochford ruled against an injunction last week because she determined Siegal's administrative remedies had not been exhausted. However, she was clear to point out her ruling should not be understood to comment on the merits of the actual case.
Administrative hearings will continue in mid-August. The department will likely rule against Siegal and his lawyers will then appeal to the circuit court.
Then, this will be a case for everyone to watch.
Because it should not be omitted: I am an expert witness for Siegal's attorneys on the topic of Internet databases.