A federal judge in Savannah, Georgia, has ruled that a city cannot require that tour guides be licensed to tell paying customers tales of the old city.
“Today’s ruling vindicates a simple principle,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Robert McNamara. “In this country, we rely on people to decide who they want to listen to. We do not rely on government to decide who will get to speak.”
The case, Freenor v. Mayor, was filed by IJ in 2014 on behalf of city tour guides who claimed the city’s licensing requirement violated their basic rights.
“For years, Savannah had made it illegal to tell stories to tour groups without first obtaining a special license from the government,” IJ said. Tour guides who wanted this storytelling license had to pass a hundred-question multiple choice exam on Savannah history – even if they had no interest in discussing history on their tours. For instance, some tour guides focus on art and architecture or tell ghost stories. In 2015, in an effort to end the guides’ lawsuit, the city repealed the licensing requirement, but the plaintiffs pressed forward in search of a constitutional ruling.”
When city officials insisted the license was needed for consumer protection, U.S. district Judge William Moore scoffed.
“Ultimately, a handful of anecdotes is not sufficient to sustain the city’s burden to demonstrate that the tour guide licensing scheme actually serves its interests,” he ruled.
The decision comes amid of wave of licensing requirements being struck down across the nation. Tour guide license requirements have been struck in Washington and South Carolina, but other licensing demands, including one for braiding hair, recently have been struck.
“For decades, IJ has defended the basic principle that the First Amendment protects your right to speak for a living,” said IJ General Counsel Scott Bullock. “That is just as true for journalists as it is for tour guides or doctors or health coaches. Today’s victory is an important step in securing these rights for all Americans, and we look forward to many more victories to come.”
City officials voted to repeal as the judge’s decision was pending. They had been defending their licensing in court.
At the time, Bridget Lidy, the city’s chief tourism regulator, asserted that “there needs to be some kind of standard in place that protects the integrity of our community.”
And the city lawyers said the license was necessary to guard against hypothetical dangers.
“For instance, while the city’s lawyers argued that licensing was needed to prevent child molesters leading tours of Girl Scouts, the city was unable to prove that its mandatory history test actually averted that danger,” IJ said.