Tour Guide Tax

Free speech isn't free


What's the difference between a tour guide and a comedian or journalist? In Savannah, Georgia, only the former needs a special license to speak. The city requires would-be guides to pass a 100-question multiple choice test, undergo a physical exam, submit to a criminal background check, and pay an annual licensing fee. Unlicensed guides face fines of up to $1,000 and up to 30 days in jail.

With the help of public interest law firm the Institute for Justice (I.J.), some Savannah guides are challenging the city's licensing scheme, insisting they are entitled to the same constitutional protection as "any other storytellers."

"There is no 'tour guide' exception to the First Amendment," said I.J. attorney Robert Everett Johnson. "It would be unimaginable for the government to impose similar burdens on other people who talk or write for a living."

This is the fourth time I.J. has challenged guide-licensing schemes around America, following successful suits in Philadelphia and the District of Columbia and an unsuccessful case in New Orleans. I.J. recently asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the New Orleans decision.