Tour Guides File Federal First Amendment Lawsuit
The Freedom to Speak threatened in Philadelphia
Arlington, Va—May the city of Philadelphia subject tour guides to hundreds of dollars in fines for engaging in unauthorized talking?
This is the question the Institute for Justice (IJ) seeks to answer in a federal lawsuit filed today, two days before Philadelphia celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The suit is brought on behalf of three Philadelphia tour guides—Mike Tait, Josh Silver and Ann Boulais—seeking to overturn a law enacted in April that will make it illegal for anyone like them to give a tour of much of the city’s downtown area without first passing a test and obtaining a government license—without, in essence, getting the government’s permission to speak. Effective in October, unlicensed tour guides can face fines of up to $300 per violation and have their businesses shut down.
“The government cannot be in the business of deciding who may speak and who may not,” said Robert McNamara, a staff attorney with the Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm with a history of defending free speech and the rights of entrepreneurs. “The Constitution protects your right to communicate for a living, whether you are a journalist, a musician or a tour guide. It makes no more sense to let city officials decide who is allowed to talk about history than it would to let them decide who is allowed to talk about sports.”
The new law makes it illegal to give a tour for compensation of the city’s main tourist area without first submitting a written application, paying a fee, providing proof of insurance and passing a written examination in order to be granted a license to tour. The program will be administered and the test developed by an administrative agency to be named by the mayor’s office. No test has been made public.