Tour guides back in court over historical knowledge

Historical tour guides opposed to a Philadelphia licensing law were in court again Tuesday. The tour guides are now arguing for their right to argue.

Over a year ago, City Council heard complaints that the historical information given to tourists could be wildly inaccurate. It responded by passing a law that required tour guides to pass a history exam. Tour guides then took the city to district court, claiming the law violated their right to free speech.

But that judge never made a decision on the case because the law was never put into effect.

Due to a citywide budget crisis, the department of Licenses and Inspections never had the financial resources to implement a history exam. An attorney representing Philadelphia said the city has no immediate plans to enforce the law, so it would be pointless to argue to appeal a law that has been disavowed.

The tour guides claim that city budget restraints do not constitute a disavowal of the law.

“The city’s position is, we’re coming to get you, but not right now,” said Robert McNamara, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, representing the tour guides. “That’s not enough to tell a federal judge that he shouldn’t look at the Constitution to see whether this law violates it.”

Now the U.S. Court of Appeals will decide whether it would be practical to hear a case against a theoretical law. If they find in favor of the tour guides, the case would go back to the lower court for a First Amendment trial.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.