New Orleans— May New Orleans officials threaten local tour guides with hundreds of dollars in fines and five months in jail for engaging in unauthorized talking? This is the question a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear during an argument that will begin at 9 a.m., on Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in Houston, Texas.
Four area tour guides and the Institute for Justice (IJ)—a nonprofit, public interest law firm—filed a First Amendment lawsuit in 2011 to strike down the law as a violation of the tour guides’ fundamental constitutional rights.
Under the law, every tour guide is required to pass a history exam, undergo a drug test and pass an FBI criminal background check every two years merely for speaking. The law covers all types of tours, from historical and culinary tours to fanciful ghost tours. People who give tours without a license face fines of up to $300 per occurrence and five months in jail.
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“The government cannot be in the business of deciding who may speak and who may not,” said Matt Miller, lead counsel in the lawsuit and executive director of IJ’s Texas chapter. “The U.S Constitution protects your right to communicate for a living, whether you are a journalist, a street performer or a tour guide.”
Candance Kagan, Mary LaCoste, Joycelyn Cole and Annette Watt are fighting the law to protect their First Amendment right to communicate for a living.
This lawsuit is part of a larger, national effort to protect the rights of individuals who speak for a living. The Institute for Justice is currently litigating a similar law in Washington, D.C., which will be heard before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on May 5, 2014. The Institute has also filed lawsuits on behalf of a North Carolina diet blogger, a Texas veterinarian who gives advice online, and a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, all of whom have had their speech censored by government licensing boards.
IJ Senior Attorney Paul Sherman said, “Occupational licensing boards across the country are silencing countless Americans who earn their living by speaking, whether it is by offering guided tours or giving advice online. That censorship cannot be allowed to continue. The First Amendment imposes meaningful limits on government’s ability to regulate occupational speech and it is vital that an engaged judiciary enforce those limits.”
Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice is a public interest law firm that fights for free speech and economic liberty nationwide. For more information on the lawsuit, including a one-stop-shopping case backgrounder and high-res images of the clients, please visit www.IJ.org/NOLATours.