Occupational Licensing

No Street History in Charleston Without a License

Charleston law requires tour guides to pass a test and get licensed

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Charleston, South Carolina, is one of the nation's oldest major cities, with a history that stretches back more than 100 years before the Revolutionary War.

As with any old city, there are lots of stories that can be told about it.

There's the Dock Street Theater, which is so old that if "Hamilton" were performed there, it would actually be looking into the future. The theater is supposedly haunted, as any 300-year-old theater ought to be.

There's also Fort Sumter, where the opening volleys of the Civil War were exchanged. There's the famous "Rainbow Row," a set of multi-colored Georgian-style rowhomes, which have survived the wars, hurricanes and fires that have reshaped the city several times since they were built  in the 1780s. And of course there's more antebellum mansions than you can shake a stick at.

And if I were telling you all of this while standing on a street in Charleston, there's at least a small chance I'd be arrested for doing it.

That's because anyone who wants to talk about Charleston's history must first obtain a license from the city. Getting that license means passing a 200-question written exam—a passing grade is 80 percent or higher—and then passing an oral exam conducted by taxpayer-funded city officials.

To pass both exams, would-be tour guides have to memorize pretty much the entire history of Charleston.

That's bad news for people like Mike Warfield, who works as a volunteer at one of Charleston's history museums. He planned to give tours of the city's historic pubs and haunted spots—hey, that sounds like the kind of tour I'd want to take—but was told he could do it only if he could pass the city's comprehensive history exam.

He failed. And since the exams are administered only four times per year, his potential business is now on hold.

But since Warfield knows his history, he also knows about a little thing called the First Amendment, which says you have the right to say pretty much anything you want to say—even if the city government in Charleston disagrees.

Warfield is one of three plaintiffs challenging the city's tour guide licensing laws on First Amendment grounds, with the help of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that challenges silly rules like tour guide licensing. The case is now before a federal district court.

The city maintains that the tour guide licensing system is necessary to "provide accurate, factual and updated information to its visitors and residents." It's cute that they care so much, while also hitting tourists with a 12 percent tax on hotel rooms and a bonus 2 percent tax on meals in the "historic" part of the city—all in the name of "hospitality."

But, look, if you're signing up for a tour about bars and ghosts, well, you're probably going to hear some things that are not 100 percent factual. Actually, you'd probably be a bit disappointed if you didn't.

Even if you buy the city's argument about ensuring historical accuracy, the First Amendment doesn't say that only historically accurate speech is allowed. So, the next time you're in Charleston, gather a group of people around you, point to City Hall, and tell them "this is where the nannies work." It's your constitutional right.

This article originally appeared at Watchdog.org.

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  1. The story is about Charleston, but the head/subhead say “Charlotte”…

    1. You need a license from Charleston to provide street history services in Charlotte? Now that truly is occupational license abuse!

      1. What about the interpreter repeating in another language what the tour guide is saying? Charging additional bribes licenses for them could actually work like a Republican Wall to keep heathen furriners out of Dixie

    2. Typical Yankee ignorance.

        1. We were in the Forbidden City in Beijing with a black couple. He related the story of growing up in the DC suburbs with some Chinese kids, saying ‘they all looked the same to him’.
          Couldn’t help ribbing him.

          1. You took his ribs away? Brutal.

  2. If you’ll look out the left side of the tour bus you’ll see the exact spot where the First Amendment was put to death.

    1. If this wins on the First Amendment, I am gonna open up a doctor’s office.

      “What do you mean, practicing without a license? I am just talking. First Amendment, beeyach.”

      Not that I support this nonsense, or even mandatory licensing requirements for doctors. Any clues as to who lobbied for this law? I am gonna take a wild guess that it was the historically most relevant historical tour guide company of Charleston.

  3. OT: Reason has figured out how to block adblocker and the pages open now reload every 10 seconds screwing up browsing and even typing in comments.

    1. no problems with noscript

      1. I’m in Chrome with AdBlock and AdBlock Plus. No problems and no ads.

  4. Another job for the Institute for Justice, [www.IJ.org ] challenging local governments over licensing laws. They have a good track record of winning. Licensing laws are just another way of greedy politicians taxing people by licensing their occupations.

  5. KRAMER: Of course, uh, this is Central Park. Uh, this was designed in 1850 by Joe Peppitone. Um, built during the Civil War so the northern armies could practice fighting on…on grass. Oh, yeah.

    1. +1 can of Beef-a-Reeno

  6. Most overrated city in the South.

  7. But, look, if you’re signing up for a tour about bars and ghosts, well, you’re probably going to hear some things that are not 100 percent factual.

    World’s shortest tour:

    “Folks, there’s no such thing as ghosts. That over there is a bar. There are several more nearby. They all serve pretty much the same stuff, really, so pick the one you like. Thanks, and have fun in Charleston!”

  8. The title made me imagine white outlines of people gunned down by police spray painted on the streets.

  9. I was on a bus tour of Charleston back in ought one.

    Bus driver was talking about historic buildings and how they didnt need regulations to protect them, the people of charleston did it anyway.

    So I asked him why a new grocery was having to keep the structure of the hostoric building, why they couldnt be counted on to do it anyway.

    The driver wasnt happy with me.

  10. Now Charlotte is gonna take up this stupid scheme too. THANKS Mr. Boehm.

  11. before I saw the bank draft which had said $9426 , I didnt believe that…my… brother woz like actualy earning money part-time at there labtop. . there uncles cousin has done this 4 less than fifteen months and by now repaid the dept on there place and got a great new Mini Cooper . read the full info here …

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  12. before I saw the bank draft which had said $9426 , I didnt believe that…my… brother woz like actualy earning money part-time at there labtop. . there uncles cousin has done this 4 less than fifteen months and by now repaid the dept on there place and got a great new Mini Cooper . read the full info here …

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  13. if he were standing in the middle of town square or a park the city could still require one to obtain a permit to gather…..and since he wants to generate income with the tours then the city theoretically has even more authority to require the licensing….no different from a chaffeur’s license, state mechanic licenses…….oddly enough though the state of oregon is the only state in the country which requires paid tax preparers to pass an exam after taking a class from a commercial tax preparer such as h&r block……..so any monkey can prepare your taxes in south carolina but one must pass an exam to give a tour of the city….hehe

  14. So much for my retirement plan of going to Charleston, touring people around and making shit up… “hee’ah is the home of Beauregard Slavewhippah who met his untimely death in a duel over the maiden Pocahontas and across thisaway the haunted mansion of Scarlett Antibellum, she died tragically in childbirth while awaitin the return of her sweethawt , Jefferson, who, unbeknowenst to her, stahrved to death in a yankee prison camp…. Oh, well there are other cities…

  15. my friend’s step-aunt makes $76 hourly on the internet .,,,,U She has been without a job for 8 months but last month her income was $16370 just working on the internet for a few hours. …

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  16. my friend’s step-aunt makes $76 hourly on the internet .,,,,U She has been without a job for 8 months but last month her income was $16370 just working on the internet for a few hours. …

    ==== http://www.Careers-Report.com

  17. I don’t see a problem with this. Many times, fly-by-night tour guides pop up, take people’s money, and then tourists leave town with a bad taste in their mouths about it. Charging people for pub crawls, with a little bit of history thrown in between the pubs, is the oldest tourist scam out there. Even if the crawls are free, the “tour operator” often gets a percentage of the money tourists spend at the businesses.

    The City of Charleston has a fantastic history and people who want to make a buck off it should have to jump through a few hoops to do so.

  18. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.
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  19. RE: No Street History in Charleston Without a License
    Charleston law requires tour guides to pass a test and get licensed

    Any good socialist will tell you that if you need a license to drive a car, truck, motorcycle, etc., then you need a license to do something as dangerous as directing tours.
    That’s just common sense.

  20. my buddy’s step-mother makes $89 /hr on the laptop . She has been fired for seven months but last month her income was $19439 just working on the laptop for a few hours. you could check here

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  22. This is NOT about a violation of freedom of speech, this is about obtaining an occupational license. Yes, the City is concerned about keeping hucksters blathering whatever off their streets. And, I though not being of or from Charleston believe it quite proper. Anyone charging for elaborating on history needs to either be licensed or a professor of same from an educational institute.

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