[image-1] The City of Charleston will morph its previously-mandatory tour guide license into a “Voluntary Certification Pending Judicial Review” program after a federal judge declared the rules unconstitutional earlier this month.

Tour guides will no longer have to pass a 200-question test based on an almost 500-page manual to be legally allowed to speak about the Holy City’s history for hire, though the hurdles will remain in place for any guides who want a stamp of approval from city officials.

“While the recent ruling means the City cannot require tour guide licensing at this time, the City is taking action to promote a quality tour guide experience within the bounds of the Judge’s ruling,” according to a press release issued Wednesday.

“The licensing law imposes real burdens on those hoping to be tour guides in
Charleston,” according to U.S. District Judge David Norton, who found that the licensing rules violated guides’ First Amendment rights.

“The law applies to all tour guides who wish to give paid tours within Charleston’s historical district, a lucrative profession in a city where tourism is the most profitable industry,” Norton wrote in his order. “But the record demonstrates that the city never investigated or tried to use any less speech-restrictive alternatives.”

The city will file a motion asking Judge Norton to reconsider his Aug. 3 ruling and will consider taking its case to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals if necessary.

City officials argued that the licensing rules were the best way to ensure the quality and historical accuracy of tours given within city limits. Some tour guides, including the three who sued the city in January 2016, argued that the city’s test asked questions that were often irrelevant to the subject matter they covered with tourists.

Guides will still need a business license from the city unless they’re working with an already-licensed company, and they must still pay the 50-cents-per-ticket tour fee, which is self-reported in monthly and quarterly forms.

“In the meantime, it is our hope that this voluntary program will help maintain the high quality of customers’ experiences when paying for a tour here in Charleston,” said city lawyer Susan Herdina.

Several of Charleston’s most established tour groups have said that they will continue to require guides to pass the city’s test.

Animal welfare provisions, geographic restrictions, and rules governing tour hours will still be enforced.