The Fight for Free Speech in Philadelphia

This week Americans exercised their right to vote, but three tour guides in Philadelphia are fighting to keep their right to free speech. In July three tour guides sued the city of Philadelphia with the help of the Institute for Justice in response to a new law requiring those who give tours for compensation to take and pass a government-approved test in order to obtain a license or be subject to a $300 fine.

After a federal court hearing on October 6th the city agreed to prohibit the enforcement of the law for six months (the law was set to take effect on October 13th). IJ attorney Bob McNamara explains,

“The main point we were making to the judge is that the Constitution protects people’s right to speak for a living, whether they’re tour guides, whether they’re stand-up comedians, or whether they’re journalists. Fundamentally in this country, we rely on people to decide on who they want to listen to. We do not rely on the government to decide who gets to talk.”

An attack on free speech in the city where these rights were born is not only ironic, but part of a growing trend to regulate through the guise of occupational licensing. In the past year alone the Pennsylvania Legislature has passed licensure requirements for massage therapists and ebay sellers; all together Pennsylvania requires licenses for 62 professions. For more information read IJ’s primer on occupational licensing, Reason’s Policy Study and Steve Albert’s discussion of occupational licensing in Pennsylvania.