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License to Describe: Defeating Washington DC’s Tour Guide Licensing Scheme

In Washington, DC, talking without a license can land you in jail for 90 days. www.ij.org Tonia Edwards and Bill Main are lawbreakers. Nearly every day, they teach a group of people how to ride Segways, and then take them around Washington, DC, to talk about local sights and attractions. Their business is located near the National Archives, so one of the things they tell their customers is where the Bill of Rights is located. For this, the city government could throw Tonia and Bill in prison for three months. In Washington, DC, it is illegal for anyone to give a tour of the city for compensation without first obtaining a special license—quite literally, a license to describe. DC’s tour-guide licensing scheme is unconstitutional. Simply put, the government is not allowed to require people to get a license in order to talk. That is why Tonia and Bill have teamed up with the Institute for Justice to file a federal First Amendment challenge to the city’s tour-guide licensing scheme. Tonia and Bill’s lawsuit, filed on September 16, 2010 in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, will vindicate their right to earn an honest living by speaking as well as establish a very simple and important legal principle: The Constitution does not allow the government to be in the business of deciding who is—and who is not—allowed to speak about various topics. Vindicating this principle will help protect the rights of countless people across the country that communicate for a
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