Appeals Court Strikes Down Charleston’s Tour Guide Licensing Laws

‘In this country, we rely on people to decide who they want to listen to rather than relying on the government to decide who gets to speak…’

Charleston Appeals Ruling That Found Tour Guide Licenses Unconstitutional

Charleston, S.C./IMAGE: Southern Living via Youtube

(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) An appeals court ruled Thursday that Charleston, South Carolina’s regulations that force tour guides to obtain a license violate the Constitution’s First Amendment, the Institute for Justice reported.

The Fourth Circuit Appeals Court agreed with a South Carolina District Court’s 2018 ruling, which affirmed the right of citizens to host tours without the city’s permission.

“In this country, we rely on people to decide who they want to listen to rather than relying on the government to decide who gets to speak,” said IJ Senior Attorney Arif Panju. “Charleston’s law was unconstitutional because it got that important principle exactly backwards.”

Institue for Justice‘s attorneys tried the city’s tour-guide regulations on behalf of three people who wanted to host unique tours.

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For tour guides to obtain Charleston’s license, they had to memorize a 500-page book of information about the city.

But the tour guides who IJ represents did not want to focus on the information that Charleston had hand selected when talking with visitors.

“My love for history has helped others to go down in history, and what an amazing feeling that is,” said Kimberly Billups, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “I tell my tour groups full of eighth-graders about how important our First Amendment is and how they can keep it safe for the future.”

IJ’s lawyers said Charleston’s tour-guide ordinance put an undue burden on the right to free speech, and the city’s interest in ensuring that tour guides disseminate accurate information does not outweigh that right.

The court agreed.

“The Ordinance undoubtedly burdens protected speech,” wrote Judge Robert B. King in the court’s opinion, “as it prohibits unlicensed tour guides from leading paid tours—in other words, speaking to visitors—on certain public sidewalks and streets.”

King said Charleston officials did not try to regulate tourism through less restrictive means, as the law obligates them to do.

Charleston is “obliged to demonstrate that it actually tried or considered less-speech-restrictive alternatives and that such alternatives were inadequate to serve the government’s interest,” King wrote.

IJ has helped topple similar licensing ordinances in Washington, D.C., Savannah, Ga., and Williamsburg, Va.