The city of Charleston says it will no longer require tour guides pass a 200-question exam after a judge ruled it unconstitutional last week.
“Effective (Monday), the City will cease enforcement of its tour guide licensing requirements,” attorney Carol Ervin said in a released statement. “The City is disappointed with this result and plans to ask the Court to reconsider the ruling, and may appeal to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals if necessary. In the interim, the City will be weighing its options to protect its residents, tourism economy, and visitors consistent with the Judge’s decision.”
The Institute for Justice (IJ) sued against the requirement in 2016, arguing it was unconstitutional because tour guides are protected by free speech rights.
“It’s no different than professors telling stories about history or comedians telling jokes to make people laugh,” the Institute’s lead attorney for the case Arif Panju said. “And your best defense against a bad tour guide or bad comedian or bad professor is not to listen to them anymore.”
U.S. District Judge David Norton issued an opinion Friday holding that Charleston’s licensing requirement violates the First Amendment. The law was challenged by three would-be tour guides — Kimberly Billups, Michael Warfield and Michael Nolan — who recruited IJ for their legal assistance. Norton heard the case in July.
“History speaks volumes,” Billups said in a written comment after the ruling. “Charleston is not above the law of the land.”
Panju said cities have the ability to regulate private tour guides through business licenses or industry certification, but he said legal precedent does not allow a government to prevent an individual from speaking in a public space if less restrictive means are available. He argued there was no evidence Charleston attempted the less restrictive method.
In particular, he noted the 200-question exam was based on a 400-page manual drafted by architects and historians chosen by the city. An oral component was then graded by a panel.
“By forcing people to master a tour guide training manual and also pass a test that was written by the people who wrote the tour guide training manual, you’re forcing people to master information that you care about,” he said. Panju noted in working on the case that city architects with little historical knowledge were able to pass the test while historians with little architectural knowledge struggled.
He said the IJ had successfully sued against similar tour-guide licensing laws in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Savannah.