(CN) - New Orleans can require tour guides to get a license before speaking to customers about "points of interest" in the city, the 5th Circuit ruled.
Four female tour guides - Candance Kagan, Mary Lacoste, Joycelyn Cole and Annette Watt - sued
New Orleans in 2011 over its tour guide licensing rules, which subject unlicensed guides to $300 fines per violation and up to five months in prison.
City code requires people who charge money for tours to obtain a license. Doing so requires passing a "historical, cultural and sociological" test about New Orleans, proving that the applicant has not been convicted of a felony in the past five years, passing a drug test and paying a $50 fee, according to the ruling.
The women argued that the rules infringe on their First Amendment "right to speak freely to others about New Orleans, its culture, and its history without prior restraint of a government-issued license."
They said the law is absurd, as unlicensed tour guides could silently lead a group of sightseers around the city on foot.
A federal judge found the licensing scheme constitutional, and the federal appeals court last Monday upheld that decision.
"New Orleans, by requiring the licensees to know the city and not be felons or drug addicts, has effectively promoted the government interests, and without those protections for the city and its visitors, the government interest would be unserved," Judge Thomas Reavley wrote for the three-judge panel.
The 5th Circuit found no basis for the tour guides' freedom of speech argument, because the city does not monitor what tour guides say.
"Those who have the license can speak as they please, and that would apply to almost any vocation that may be licensed. Tour guides may talk but what they say is not regulated or affected by New Orleans," Reavley wrote.
"When a city exercising its police power has a law only to serve an important governmental purpose without affecting what people say as they act consistently with that purpose, how is there any claim to be made about speech being offended?" he wrote.