Occupational Licensing

District Court Strikes Down Licenses for Tour Guides in Charleston

Prospective tour guides won't have to cough up nearly $100 and study for weeks to talk about their city anymore.


Richard Cummins/robertharding/Newscom

It's finally legal to talk about history in Charleston, South Carolina, without the government's permission. A U.S. District Court ruled on Friday that the city's tour guide licensing rules are unconstitutional.

Prior to Judge David Norton's decision, the City of Charleston mandated that tour guides take a 200-question written examination and an oral examination covering a range of topics about the city's history. The necessary material was covered in an almost-500-page manual published by the city. Getting tested costs $50; the manual is an additional $48.83.

For Kimberly Billups, Mike Warfield, and Michael Nolan, the test was an expensive hurdle full of irrelevant questions. In Billups' case, the regulation kept her from opening her own business, Charleston Belle Tours. So the Institute for Justice (IJ) sued the city in 2016 on their behalf, arguing that the requirement infringed on the petitioners' First Amendment rights. "The First Amendment protects your right to speak for a living, whether you're a journalist, a stand-up comedian or a tour guide," said Robert McNamara, a senior attorney at IJ, after the decision was released.

The law's defenders argue that tourism is an important industry in Charleston and that licensure laws are needed to ensure that visitors get accurate information. The judge didn't buy that: After four days in court and a little over three months of deliberation, he ruled that the law did in fact violate the Bill of Rights.

"The licensing law imposes real burdens on those hoping to be tour guides in Charleston," writes Norton. "The record demonstrates that the City never investigated or tried to use any less speech-restrictive alternatives."

Federal courts tend to have mixed feelings about such laws. While IJ has won similar lawsuits in Savannah, Philadelphia, and D.C., New Orleans' licensing requirements for tour guides were upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A 2015 Brookings report found that almost 30 percent of America's workers need a license to do their jobs. Friday's ruling is a win not just for free speech, but for paring back the rules that lock people out of jobs and artificially limit competition.

NEXT: New York Inches Towards Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Go IJ! Go IJ!
    IJ rocks!

    1. Yeah, I think I might start donating to them. First step, gotta go find some money.

      1. What are you talking about?! They just opened up a nice gig for you as a Charleston tour guide!

  2. So great, when I next hit Charleston I could be getting unlicensed Teddy McFakeNewsey as my tour guide? No thanks.

    1. Why are the mocking made-up names always Irish?

      1. They trip off the tongue more lightly.

      2. the McFakeNewseys are proud Scots.

      3. Giovanni DeStuffismadeuppo? How about Fritz von Horseshittenburg?…

      4. I blame Fibber McGee.

    2. You could – unless you ask for a licensed (or maybe just certified) tour guide. The ruling does not prohibit the city from holding tests and offering certifications of expertise to those who pass them. Nor does the ruling prevent tour guides who pass the test from advertising about their expertise. The ruling merely prevents the city from arbitrarily requiring the test.

      If city officials treated the test more like an Good Housekeeping seal of approval, it would be a) completely constitutional and b) a lot more useful to both customers and prospective guides.

  3. The judge deciding this case shows his ass:

    “In striking down the licensing law, this court follows?as it must?binding
    authority about the reach of the First Amendment. But it takes this as an opportunity to
    posit that this case is an example of the First Amendment run amok and question whether
    the paid tour guide speech that is at issue in this case is the type of speech that the First
    Amendment is intended to protect.”

  4. Now when can I be paid to talk to you about your troubles for pay without a PhD in the so-called “science” of psychology? This hunk of horse manure is no less silly than getting certified as a “correct” city historian!

    1. Now when can I be paid to talk to you about your troubles for pay without a PhD in the so-called “science” of psychology?

      Become a bartender.

        1. Did you hear about the guy with the Jewish bartender and the Irish psychiatrist?

      1. Become a bartender.

        Guess what needs a license in most states.

        1. Correction: not most states, but in some and in many municipalities.

        2. Which is strange, because I don’t need a license to poor alcohol into a cup myself and drink it, and I don’t have to tip myself either. Not sure what is supposed to be deterred by this.

  5. Gasp! Think of the children!

  6. I’ve been arguing for years that my house plans are art and also protected by the 1st amendment and thus do not need to be a licensed architect to have homes built from my plans.

  7. What next?
    Unlicensed garbage collectors?

    1. Journalists. They’re called journalists.

    2. the licensed ones in Dallas believe their license extends to weekly destruction of City property

  8. Charleston, SC? Easy – over there are the racists and over here we have the racists. Tour complete.

      1. hi-larious.

  9. QUESTION 1: Please give the correct term:

    (a) Civil War
    (b) The Late Unpleasantness
    (c) The War Between the States
    (d) The War of Northern Aggression

    QUESTION 2: Strom Thurmond was

    (a) Who? We don’t need to know who he was to do a good tour
    (b) Former governor and Senator
    (c) Great, I knew his grandkids
    (d) Someone we ought to have more of today

    1. QUESTION 1: The Civil War began

      (a) With the Confederate assault on Fort Sumter
      (b) When Fort Sumter was fired upon
      (c) When the Yankees refused to evacuate Fort Sumter
      (d) When the meddling Yankees made trouble about our domestic institutions

      1. Question 4: Who started the Civil War

        (a) PETA
        (b) The Equine Society
        (c) Horse Lovers of America
        (d) The ‘Boucheries Chevalines’ of France

      2. (e) When rebel forces approached Ft. Sumter and a gun was discharged.

    2. Ans. None of the Above. It was “The War for Southern Independence.”

    3. 4) The root cause of the Civil War was

      (a) Slavery
      (b) States’ Rights
      (c) An industrialized North jealous of the South’s bucolic paradise
      (d) The Rothschilds

  10. Great, now just any neo-confederate white supremacist can be a tour guide and spread fake history and tourists won’t get sufficiently enlightened about the state’s terrible, shameful history; and to boot, the lost revenue will cripple education in the state. Just what these backwards, uneducated, anti-government faux libertarian goobers want.

    1. And any African-American can be a tour guide and explain the situation of blacks in Charleston prior to and after the Civil War without having to know the difference between a Doric and Ionic column.

  11. The First Amendment protects your right to speak for a living, whether you’re a journalist, a stand-up comedian or a tour guide,

    Yes, but it doesn’t permit you to point at a building or statue while you’re doing it.

    /Charleston’s lawyer

  12. Great news. We can continue to have the tour guides say that Charleston harbor is where the Cooper and Ashley Rivers join to form the Atlantic Ocean.

    1. Abolishing prior restraint doesn’t preclude subsequent punishment of criminal words.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.