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Nanny State of the Week: Charleston’s storied history is off-limits to the unlicensed

By   /   March 7, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 72 of 80 in the series Nanny State of the Week

Charleston, South Carolina, is one of the nation’s oldest major cities, with a history that stretches back more than 100 years before the Revolutionary War.

As with any old city, there are lots of stories that can be told about it.

Image via Wiki Commons

SHHHH: Charleston has lots of old buildings and history to talk about — but don’t let city officials catch you doing it without a permission slip from the government.

There’s the Dock Street Theater, which is so old that if “Hamilton” were performed there, it would actually be looking into the future. The theater is supposedly haunted, as any 300-year-old theater ought to be.

There’s also Fort Sumter, where the opening volleys of the Civil War were exchanged. There’s the famous “Rainbow Row,” a set of multi-colored Georgian-style rowhomes, which have survived the wars, hurricanes and fires that have reshaped the city several times since they were built  in the 1780s. And of course there’s more antebellum mansions than you can shake a stick at.

And if I were telling you all of this while standing on a street in Charleston, there’s at least a small chance I’d be arrested for doing it.

READ MORE: Bipartisan support for fixing broken occupational licensing system

That’s because anyone who wants to talk about Charleston’s history must first obtain a license from the city. Getting that license means passing a 200-question written exam – a passing grade is 80 percent or higher – and then passing an oral exam conducted by taxpayer-funded city officials.

To pass both exams, would-be tour guides have to memorize pretty much the entire history of Charleston.

That’s bad news for people like Mike Warfield, who works as a volunteer at one of Charleston’s history museums. He planned to give tours of the city’s historic pubs and haunted spots – hey, that sounds like the kind of tour I’d want to take – but was told he could do it only if he could pass the city’s comprehensive history exam.

Photo curtsey the Institute for Justice

WARFIELD: Mike Warfield has twice failed to pass the city’s written exam for tour guides, so he is unable to start a business taking tourists to historic pubs and haunted spots. He believes the rules are unconstitutional.

He failed. And since the exams are administered only four times per year, his potential business is now on hold.

But since Warfield knows his history, he also knows about a little thing called the First Amendment, which says you have the right to say pretty much anything you want to say – even if the city government in Charleston disagrees.

Warfield is one of three plaintiffs challenging the city’s tour guide licensing laws on First Amendment grounds, with the help of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that challenges silly rules like tour guide licensing. The case is now before a federal district court.

The city maintains that the tour guide licensing system is necessary to “provide accurate, factual and updated information to its visitors and residents.” It’s cute that they care so much, while also hitting tourists with a 12 percent tax on hotel rooms and a bonus 2 percent tax on meals in the “historic” part of the city – all in the name of “hospitality.”

But, look, if you’re signing up for a tour about bars and ghosts, well, you’re probably going to hear some things that are not 100 percent factual. Actually, you’d probably be a bit disappointed if you didn’t.

Even if you buy the city’s argument about ensuring historical accuracy, the First Amendment doesn’t say that only historically accurate speech is allowed. So, the next time you’re in Charleston, gather a group of people around you, point to City Hall, and tell them “this is where the nannies work.” It’s your constitutional right.

Part of 80 in the series Nanny State of the Week
  1. Nanny-state state of the week: MD may become first to ban Vaportinis
  2. Nanny-state city of the week: Minneapolis wants to ban take-out trays
  3. Skim is in: CT lawmakers want to ban whole milk in day cares
  4. Nanny state of the week: Fairfax, VA, wants to limit the right to assemble
  5. Nanny state of the week: SC — and Schumer — for duplicative efforts to ban powdered alcohol
  6. Nanny of the Week: Virginia hoses down car wash fundraisers
  7. Nanny of the Week: Even a summertime trip to the beach can’t be nanny-free
  8. Nanny of the week: Federal authorities think feral cats can read signs
  9. Nanny of the week: Cambridge wants to ban ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft
  10. Nanny-stater of the week: NY lawmaker wants to ban photos with tigers
  11. Nanny-stater of the Week: Who needs cupcakes and candy? Here, have a pencil
  12. Nanny-stater of the week: Fargo limits kids to less than four shots of juice per day
  13. Nanny-stater of the week: Wisconsin towns fight repeal of bow ban
  14. Nanny of the week: No fun in the sun, thanks to Congress and FDA
  15. Nanny-stater of the week: DOT to ban cell phone use on planes
  16. Nanny of the week: The out-of-control trend of arresting non-helicopter moms
  17. Nanny of the Week: Vermont city could ban ‘human activity’
  18. Nanny of the Week: Mississippi makes bird feeders illegal – by accident
  19. Nanny of the week: MO town bans breastfeeding near pools
  20. Nanny of the Week: School bans lip balm, 11 year-old girl fights back
  21. Watchdog.org blows lid off Vermont’s bake sale brownie ban
  22. Nanny of the Week: Seattle imposes fine on residents who throw away food
  23. Nanny of the Week: California bans plastic bags
  24. Nanny of the week: Maybe this time it will be different for Chicago
  25. Nanny of the Week: Florida growls at craft breweries’ growlers
  26. Nanny of the Week: Massachusetts town seeking to ban tobacco faces uprising from residents
  27. Nanny of the Week: Proposed bans on Thanksgiving Day shopping
  28. Nanny of the week: U.S. government bans ‘Comfyballs’ underwear
  29. Nanny of the Week: Better take down those holiday decorations
  30. Nanny of the week: Towns ban sledding
  31. Nanny of the Week: New York City plans to ban out-of-state cars
  32. Nanny of the Week: Snow-shoveling teens get in trouble with the law
  33. Nanny of the Week: Get caught wearing yoga pants three times, go to jail for life
  34. Nanny of the Week: Georgia lawmaker wants to ban mermaids, werewolves, other fictional creatures from real life
  35. Nanny State of the Week: Endangering manatees in Florida
  36. Nanny of the Week: Christie caves to protectionist gravestone proposal in N.J.
  37. Nanny of the Week: Don’t mix beer and ice cream – because of the children
  38. Nanny of the Week: Is the minimum wage a nanny state policy?
  39. Nanny of the Week: Republican in NY backs cat declawing ban
  40. Nanny of the Week: NJ continues ban on self-serve gasoline, because sometimes it snows
  41. Nanny of the Week: Bernie Sanders is coming for your deodorant
  42. Nanny of the Week: Will babies confuse beer for their binkies?
  43. Nanny of the Week: Weeds will prevail in Maryland lawn care ban
  44. Nanny State of the Week: FDA bans trans-fats
  45. Nanny State of the Week: L.A. plans to jail unlicensed street vendors
  46. Nanny ST8 of the Week: Anti-government messages not allowed on license plates
  47. Nanny State of the Week: Helicopters, horses and New York City
  48. Nanny State of the Week: Lawsuit challenges Seattle trash snooping
  49. Nanny State of the Week: Town officials mandate mowing
  50. Nanny State of the Week: Florida county sends environmental specialist to investigate BBQ
  51. Nanny State: Despite menu nannies, Americans still fat!
  52. Nanny State of the Week: New York City’s ban on Styrofoam hurts businesses, consumers
  53. Nanny State of the Week: Colorado Springs may ban sitting in public places
  54. Nanny State of the Week: New York’s soda ban could be back — but for kids only
  55. Nanny State of the Week: D.C. flexing licensing muscles at personal trainers
  56. Nanny State of the Week: Hammock bans mean no hanging out on college campuses
  57. Nanny State of the Week: County can use same lawn treatments it banned residents from using
  58. Nanny State of the Week: Pols want to ban daily fantasy sports
  59. Nanny State of the Week: Bay Area bureaucrats ban fireplaces, wood stoves
  60. Nanny State of the Week: Halloween for the politically correct only
  61. Nanny State of the Week: Governments lag behind the public on orca captivity ban
  62. Nanny State of the Week: New York might accidentally ban makeup
  63. Nanny State of the Week: California could be first state to apply no-fly list to guns
  64. Nanny State of the Week: University may block social media app in futile effort to combat racism
  65. Nanny State of the Week: City fines residents for chipped paint, mismatched curtains
  66. Nanny State of the Week: No Christmas in Bethlehem this year
  67. Nanny State of the Week: Connecticut may outlaw smoking in many cars
  68. Nanny State of the Week: Town inspection checks whether you cleaned your toilet
  69. Nanny State of the Week: Minnesota men facing felony charges for selling beer
  70. Nanny State of the Week: City rewrites law to block theater from getting liquor license
  71. Nanny State of the Week: FDA goes beyond the pale, prepares to ban teen tanning
  72. Nanny State of the Week: Charleston’s storied history is off-limits to the unlicensed
  73. Nanny State of the Week: Feds marketing food stamps with bingo games, TV ads
  74. Nanny State of the Week: No sipping and selling for Alabama winemakers
  75. Nanny State of the Week: Jail time for texting while walking in New Jersey
  76. Nanny State of the Week: In time for Opening Day, cities ban chewing tobacco at ballparks
  77. Nanny State of the Week: Feds send LSD Ale on a long, strange trip
  78. Nanny State of the Week: Happy Tax Day! Now get ready to pay more to file
  79. Nanny State of the Week: A state license for breast-feeding advice?
  80. Nanny State of the Week: School officials bully kids with ban on skinny jeans

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Eric is the national regulatory reporter for Watchdog.org. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has appeared in Reason Magazine, National Review Online, The Freeman Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Examiner and Fox News. He was once featured in a BuzzFeed list-icle. Follow him on Twitter @EricBoehm87.