Institute for Justice · February 29, 2016

Punishing people for unlicensed talking plainly violates the First Amendment rights guaranteed to every American. Yet, in a letter-to-the-editor at the Charleston Post and Courier, two licensed tour guides, who claim to be on the side of free speech, demanded that these unnecessary and unconstitutional regulations continue.

Speaking without a permit can be grounds for punishment in the city of Charleston, SC. Tour guides who practice their form of storytelling without an official license from the city government can be slapped with a $500 fine, or even face 30 days behind bars. This is why the Institute for Justice joined several Charleston tour guides to file a First Amendment lawsuit back in January.

“Any law that makes you pass a 200-question history exam and an oral exam before you can tell stories about Charleston flunks every test under the First Amendment,” said Arif Panju, an IJ attorney representing the three tour guides in the lawsuit.

And that licensing exam can only be taken four times a year. Guides can get temporary licenses, but only if they are sponsored by existing tour companies. In other words, the city has made it very difficult for tour guides to work independently.

“The First Amendment protects the right to talk for a living, whether you are a stand-up comedian, a journalist or a tour guide,” explained IJ Senior Attorney Robert McNamara, who is co-counsel on the case. “The government cannot be in the business of deciding what stories are important or who is allowed to tell them. The best defense against a bad tour guide is the same as the best defense against a bad comedian: Don’t listen to them.”

Read more on IJ’s history of defending First Amendment rights here.