"Tour guides should know what they're talking about"- A First Amendment Violation?

In April the city of Philadelphia passed an ordinance that all professional tour guides must be licensed by the city. The licensing requires passing a test to prove that they have a good working knowledge of the city’s history. This was in response to complaints about tour guides giving false information (e.g. that George Washington met the young Abraham Lincoln in Philadelphia [GW was of course dead 10 years when Lincoln was born], that Walt Whitman used to walk over a particular NJ bridge that wasn’t built until long after his death, etc.). The fine for not being licensed and giving tours is $300 for first offense.

Now several tour guides who do not have licensing are suing stating that the new ordinance violates their Freedom of Speech. IMHO, it does not. What about in your humble opinion?

Philadelphia Inquirer
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I’d say you can regulate it, since they are financially profiting from it. Plenty of other talk-only professions are regulated an very few complain about 1st amendment right w/r/t them.

Whether they should, constitutional issues aside, is questionable. If you don’t, it hurts those who do pass on correct information. If there is any congestion or lots of competition caused by bad tour guides, I’d say go for it, otherwise I’d be “meh, whatever.”

Gosh, I don’t know. I would like people to have historically accurate information in general, but some of the BEST historical tours I have ever been on have been led by total crackpots, including one who asserted (strongly) that TR’s Bull Moose party evolved into the cabal that covered up the Kennedy assassination and also maybe Roswell. Should I be denied that kind of entertainment (really, you can’t even put a price on it) because other people can’t manage to critically evaluate information?

I would settle for a compromise where tour guides with city licenses could promote themselves as such, and maybe that’s required for being listed on (municipally funded) web sites and travel/tourism promotional materials. I would only fine those people who falsely claimed to have a license when they did not.

I have no problem with regulating it, with two exceptions:

  1. No restrictions on people who are doing it for free (I can show my cousin around town and make up anything I darned well please)

  2. No requirements placed on specialty or non-historical tours. Why should I have to study up on Philly history to give a pub tour, or a fishing tour?

What about tour guides who are giving non-historical tours? According to the guy who tells you which houses are haunted by which spooks, George Washington probably did meet Lincoln in Philadelphia. Hell, they’re both down at the local pub having a drink right now. WoooOOOOooOOoooO

I have wondered about ghost tours. I don’t know if Philadelphia has them but they’re staples in Savannah, Charleston, St. Augustine, New Orleans, and other locales. I suppose some leeway is granted: they can say “That house over there is the home of Madame Delphine Lalaurie and is said to be the most haunted house in America” and give a list of her atrocities, but they can’t add in “and she was the great-great-grandmother of George W. Bush who made the remains of one of her husband’s skin grafting experiments into a wallet”.

I think the Middle-Path is probably best also: have voluntary licensing and then publicize it so that customers know the difference. The market would probably sort it out.

I think the license is a good idea, if it was not a requirement. That way tourists would get accurate information, and locals would get their entertainment by crackpots. Everyone wins.

I wonder if anybody gives San Francisco tours dressed as Emperor Norton, or other famous crackpots. I think “Famous Crackpot Tours” would be a good idea in general, actually.

The only examples I can think of off-hand, lawyers and accountants, are ones where clients could incur serious harm to their finances or freedoms due to bad advice. That’s quite a bit different than incorrect tour information which, while not a good thing, isn’t nearly as significant or damaging. In the absence of harm, the first amendment argument becomes a lot more relevant.

Still, some method of validating tour guides would be nice. Personally, I’d prefer voluntary third-party certification that helps inform consumers but still ultimately leaves it up to the free market and minimizes government control.

Who would be writing and/or approving this history test they would have to pass?

As a tourist who has taken that kind of tour in a number of cities, I would love it if there was some way to know that the “facts” being given to me are true. If I just wanted to see the buildings and streets, I wouldn’t have paid someone for a historical tour.

I lean towards delphica’s idea of a system that denotes which guilds have passed the test, but how is a tourist, newly arrived in town, supposed to know that such a systems even exists?

The tour guides that came up with the idea of the history test, of course!

I would imagine that tour guides (books/phamplets/web) would explain the difference. If was bringing a load of school kids to Philly I would want them to get the straight dope, but I don’t have a problem with entertaining tours that have bent the truth.

The city would need to pay for advertising it if they felt strongly about it. They could put it on their web site (I think a lot of tourists visit the “official” website when making plans to visit the city). Where else do you get tourist information? Promotions in hotels, chamber of commerce materials, billboards, commercial websites – the city would need to budget to advertise in those places.

A humble suggestion–if somebody thinks there are too many misinformed tour guides in Philadelphia, create a “licensing bureau” which will administer history tests on a voluntary basis. Guides who pass the test can promote themselves as “certified tour guides” or “certified experts” and thus more reliable. Certified tour guides will be able to command a premium price.

Don’t drag the city government and taxpayers into it by making the tests mandatory, which forces the city to waste law enforcement resources by designing and administering the tests and seeking, arresting, and fining violators.

And yes, I think this could be a First Amendment violation–just like if you set up an allegedly content-neutral “licensing requirement” for newspapers.

Interestingly, the ordinance itself requires licensing, but does not appear to require that tour guides actually provide accurate information to customers. If that’s so, you could pass the test, get a license, and continue giving out bogus history because it sounds cool.

If part of the licensing is to ensure historical accuracy, why is the Betsy Ross House still in business?

I think it’s a good idea to have a vetting process for tour guides, but counter to my socialist tendencies, I think this is something the free market can handle. In addition to the free speech issues, it adds another layer of annoying bureaucracy. I would prefer if there were an Philadelphia Association of Historic Tours that vetted the guides of its members. I would happily pay a few extra dollars to be certain that the tour I was getting was historically accurate.

Chicago’s biggest tour giving entity would fit nicely through a loophole in that ordinance. The docents (tour guides) for the Chicago Architecture Foundation are all volunteers.

We pride ourselves in being better trained and more knowledgeable than the “professionals” reading off scripts, I wonder if Philadelphia has noticed the same trend (people who aren’t in it for the money take more pride in what they’re saying), or is it just that volunteers would be harder to force to get licenses? As a volunteer, I would hate to add a level of bureaucracy to something I know is already well monitored internally.

I went to Pompeii and Herculanium (Ercolano) twice. The first time with some NATO soldiers and a paid guide and the second time with my family but no guide. The first time the paid guide actually pointed to the wall of “Tuff” at Herculanium and called it “Lava”. I corrected him. He disagreed with me and I bowed to his ignorance.