Philly Tour Guides Free to Speak—For Now Judge Forbids City from Enforcing Anti-Speech Law for Six Months

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · October 6, 2008

Arlington, Va—Today, Federal District Judge Jan Dubois signed an agreed-upon injunction that temporarily prevents the city of Philadelphia from enforcing a new ordinance that would subject tour guides to a $300 fine for engaging in unauthorized talking. The regulation, passed in April and signed into law by Mayor Nutter, was scheduled to go into effect October 13. Today’s injunction prohibits the city from enforcing the law for six months or until litigation over the law’s constitutionality is complete, whichever comes first.

“Our goal was to make sure the city could not enforce this law before we receive a final ruling in this case,” said Robert McNamara, a staff attorney with the Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm representing three tour guides in a lawsuit aimed at striking down the anti-speech regulation. “That is exactly what we achieved. Within the next six months, we plan to vindicate Philadelphia tour guides’ fundamental right to talk for a living without asking the government for permission.”

The Institute for Justice represents three Philadelphia tour guides—Mike Tait, Josh Silver and Ann Boulais—who filed the federal lawsuit in July, challenging the city’s tour-guide licensing scheme as a violation of their fundamental constitutional rights.

The law would make it illegal to give a tour of the city’s main sightseeing area for compensation without first submitting a written application, paying a fee, providing proof of insurance and passing a written examination in order to be granted a license to tour. The program would be administered and the test developed by an administrative agency to be named by the mayor’s office. No test has been made public.

“I’m pleased that our rights will be safe for the next six months, and I’m confident in the eventual outcome,” said Mike Tait, a lifelong Philadelphian and plaintiff in the lawsuit. “The government should never be able to control what we say, particularly in the very place where our most fundamental freedoms were first articulated.”

“This unfortunate law is part of a nationwide explosion of occupational licensing that has occurred in recent decades,” said Institute for Justice President and General Counsel Chip Mellor. “The city’s decision to force tour guides to obtain government licenses before speaking is just another surprising example of government gone wrong and precisely the type of regulation the Institute was created to combat.”

Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice represents individuals nationwide fighting to defend free speech rights and the ability to earn an honest living in the occupations of their choice.