From the Institute for Justice: Defending the Right to Ordinary Speech

Is it possible, in America, that government will not allow citizens to make a living describing national landmarks without holding a license from the state? A license, literally, to speak about our democratic heritage. Not a business license — no, a second license from government — by which government claims to permit a person to speak. However wrong such a restriction surely is, the District of Columbia imposes that very constraint on ordinary speech.

The Institute for Justice, a libertarian, civil liberties law firm, has taken the case of Tonia Edwards and Bill Main. Here’s what Tonia and Bill do, and what the District of Columbia claims as the power to imprison them, for up to three months:

“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.”

Together, Tonia Edwards and Bill Main run Segs in the City, which provides fun and informative Segway “safaris” in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. There is, however, a key difference between the three cities: In D.C., doing this makes them criminals. Currently, for telling their customers that the National Archives houses the Bill of Rights, Tonia and Bill could be fined and sentenced to 90 days in jail.

The District’s licensing scheme makes it illegal for anyone to “guide or escort” anyone else for hire without first passing a test and obtaining a special license. The prohibition on unauthorized talking covers all of the public spaces in D.C. – including roads and sidewalks.

“This is a very important case because it is about our constitutional right to speak,” said Tonia Edwards. “We have a business license to operate, but the government cannot force us to get an additional license to speak. When we win, we will protect not only ourselves, but the free speech rights of countless other entrepreneurs as well.”

Here’s a video about the case:


It has should never be, under the United States Constitution, the place of government to require a permit to speak about places, objects, or ideas. Speaking on these topics is a right of all Americans, and mere speech must not fall under the control of federal, state, or local officials.

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