Nanny State of the Week: Charleston's storied history is off-limits to the unlicensed -
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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 93 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 93 in the series Nanny State of the Week
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  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’
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  19. Nanny of the week: MO town bans breastfeeding near pools
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  21. 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
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  35. Nanny State of the Week: Endangering manatees in Florida
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  38. Nanny of the Week: Is the minimum wage a nanny state policy?
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  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
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  62. Nanny State of the Week: New York might accidentally ban makeup
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  65. Nanny State of the Week: City fines residents for chipped paint, mismatched curtains
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  72. Nanny State of the Week: Charleston’s storied history is off-limits to the unlicensed
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  74. Nanny State of the Week: No sipping and selling for Alabama winemakers
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    Eric Boehm is the national regulatory reporter for 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 listicle. Follow him on Twitter @EricBoehm87 and reach him at [email protected]