Federal Court Upholds Tour Guide Licensing Scheme—For Now 

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · February 25, 2011

Arlington, VA—In the first court decision generated by a federal-court challenge to the District of Columbia’s tour-guide licensing regulations, Federal District Judge Paul L. Friedman today issued an order denying both the District of Columbia’s Motion to Dismiss and the plaintiff tour guides’ Motion for a Preliminary Injunction.


Bill Main and Tonia Edwards, co-owners of Segway-based tour company Segs in the City, filed their lawsuit in September of 2010, arguing that the District’s regulations, which make it illegal for unlicensed guides to “describe[] . . . any place or point of interest in the District” to a paying tour group, violated their First Amendment right to speak for a living.

“Essentially, the court found that the Constitution allows the District of Columbia to require people to take a test before they’re allowed to guide people around D.C.,” explained Main and Edwards’ lawyer, Institute for Justice Staff Attorney Robert McNamara. “But we don’t let the government force history professors to take a government-approved history test, and we don’t let the government force sports reporters to take a government-approved sports test.”

Under the regulations, people who describe things without first passing a special history test and obtaining a license can be fined up to $300 or even thrown in jail for three months.

“It is literally true that a tour-bus driver can be thrown in jail for the crime of saying ‘The Washington Monument is pretty’ to his passengers,” continued McNamara. “It’s hard to imagine something more at odds with the basic tenets of the First Amendment. In this country, we rely on people to decide who they want to listen to. We don’t rely on the government to decide who gets to speak.”

“Many a fighter had a bloody nose in the first round,” said Main, “But we started this with the intention of getting a ruling defending our First Amendment rights, and we intend to press on as far as we can.”

The lawsuit, Edwards v. District of Columbia, remains pending in the District Court. The plaintiffs intend to appeal.

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