Lawsuit: Charleston tour guide licenses shouldn't be required

Lawsuit: Charleston tour guide licenses shouldn't be required

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A lawsuit being filed against the City of Charleston challenges a standing rule that anyone wanting to give tours within city limits needs to be licensed.

An organization called The Institute for Justice and three people who claim they would be tour guides if it wasn't for the city's licensing rule say they're filing the First Amendment lawsuit in an effort to protect the rights of people who "simply want to talk for a living."

They say you shouldn't have to obtain a license just to give a tour.

"Licensing tour guides runs afoul of the first amendment because it bars speakers from telling stories and from talking for a living. That's exactly what the City of Charleston is doing, " said attorney Arif Panju.

Those hoping to become tour guides must pass two different exams: a two-hour, 200-question written exam and an oral exam where city officials grade applicants on their verbal descriptions and storytelling about randomly selected sites around Charleston.

"Charleston's story is America's story and it should be free to tell any version without needing to pay money to get a license," said plaintiff Michael Nolan.

"I took the test twice. I studied vigorously for six months and it seems to me in my opinion the test is designed to make people fail," said plaintiff Michael Warfield.

According to the The Institute for Justice, telling stories to tour groups without a license is a crime punishable by fines of up to $500 or 30 days in jail.

"The First Amendment protects the right to talk for a living, whether you are a stand-up comedian, a journalist or a tour guide," adds IJ Senior Attorney Robert McNamara, who is co-counsel on the case. "The government cannot be in the business of deciding what stories are important or who is allowed to tell them. The best defense against a bad tour guide is the same as the best defense against a bad comedian: Don't listen to them."

In a statement, the Institute for Justice says this is their fifth lawsuit challenging tour guide licensing around the country.

A statement from Jack O'Toole, a representative for the city of Charleston, says officials haven't seen a lawsuit about tour guide licensing, but feel the licensing program is sound and serves public interest.

The Institute for Justice released a video explaining their lawsuit:

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