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Can a City charge you a fee for telling a story in public?

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This is the issue for storytellers in Savannah, Georgia. Can the City of Savannah legally charge fees to license storytelling within the City or do citizens have a First Amendment Right to speak while charging fees to listeners? 

The days before my wedding in Bristol, Rhode Island I offered our guests a walking tour of the town. I didn’t charge for it, but apparently I was doing such a good job that we picked up several people while standing at Linden Place, the museum. These museum stragglers stuck with us for the entire tour wanting to know how much they should pay me, their tour guide. 

And this brings us to the tour guides who are suing the City of Savannah to stop from being charged licensing fees for telling stories about history on the streets of Savannah, Georgia. Apparently to tell stories about history on the streets of Savannah you have to pay a fee, allow them to do a background check and submit to a physical exam. If you don’t comply you can be fined and/or serve jail time.

What is a docent?

do·cent - ˈdōsənt/noun

1a person who acts as a guide, typically on a voluntary basis, in a museum, art gallery, or zoo.

2(in certain universities and colleges) a member of the teaching staff immediately below professorial rank.

The Institute of Justice has filed suit in an attempt to do away with the licensing requirements. The Institute has filed similar suits in Washington, D.C., New Orleans and in Philadelphia.

Where the Plaintiffs' claims are realtively weak is in the fact they are engaging, not in pure speech between individuals, as much as they are in a commercial enterprise. There are very few constitutional protections that protect commercial speech as opposed to non-commercial speech. And this is, in my opinion, what the holding will turn on.

What about comedians who tell jokes in public? Or politicians or give public speeches? Are these really professions requiring a license or just a money-grab by needy political entities? You be the judge!


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