Charleston tour guides say city is muzzling their first amendment rights

CHARLESTON (WCBD) – Tour guides in Charleston must pass exams and obtain a license, a law critics claim treads on the right to free speech.

If guides don’t obtain a license, it could cost them as much as $500 dollars or possibly 30 days in jail.

The city maintains the statute protects visitors from getting misinformation from people attempting to make a quick dollar. But opponents of the law say it goes too far.

“Charleston forces people who want to talk and tell stories for a living to get a permit,” said Arif Panju, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice. “What the city failed to explain is how it will make them more virtuous by taking a test and less likely to swindle people.”

According to court documents, the licensing requirement is triggered when someone talks to a tour group for compensation.

“You have to jump through hoops,” said Kimberly Billups, a guide involved in the case. “I want everyone who can come in to this city to speak about history if they want to go for it go without all the red tape.”

Billups, Mike Warfield and Michael Nolan teamed up with the the Institute for Justice to challenge the law in January 2016. The Institute, a libertarian non-profit based in Arlington, Va., has already won similar lawsuits dealing with the First Amendment in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Charleston.

The judge in this case will issue his decision in the coming weeks, but it is unclear which way he will decide.

Forcing guides to pass a test before talking on tours is required in a handful of American cities, including New Orleans and New York.

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