A Chesterfield County woman claims county officials have violated her religious rights by defining her as a fortune teller rather than a spiritual counselor.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Payne did not immediately rule on the county’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit after a two-hour hearing Thursday.
Patricia Moore-King claims she has been unable to obtain a business license because of the more stringent standards the county imposes on fortune tellers. For example, only fortune tellers are required get the police chief’s permission to operate after submitting five references.
King says her counseling methods employ Tarot, energy healing, astrology and psychic abilities. But she insists in her lawsuit that she’s not a fortune teller because she doesn’t predict the future.
Many states have laws against fortune telling and predicting the future. The “anti-divination law” in North Carolina, interestingly, exempts fortune telling at church and school social functions:
It shall be unlawful for any person to practice the arts of phrenology, palmistry, clairvoyance, fortune-telling and other crafts of a similar kind in the counties named herein. Any person violating any provision of this section shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.
This section shall not prohibit the amateur practice of phrenology, palmistry, fortune-telling or clairvoyance in connection with school or church socials, provided such socials are held in school or church buildings.
In Maryland recently, a judge for that state’s Court of Appeals decided that “fortune telling” was a first amendment right:
“While we recognize that some fortunetellers may make fraudulent statements, just as some lawyers or journalists may, we see nothing in the record to suggest that fortunetelling always involves fraudulent statements.
“Indeed, fortunetellers, like magicians or horoscope writers, are able to provide entertainment to their customers or some other benefit that does not deceive those who receive their speech,” the court said. (Nefedro v. Montgomery County)
Montgomery County argued to no avail that, even if fortune telling is protected under the First Amendment, its ordinance was a constitutional regulation of commercial speech.
The court, however, rejected the notion that fortune telling is commercial speech.
It explained that the “purpose of fortunetelling is not to propose a commercial transaction, nor is it solely related to the economic interests of the speaker. The purpose of fortunetelling is instead to provide some other benefit to the individuals involved, whether entertainment or information that sheds light on future events.
“This is true even though the fortuneteller may receive money in exchange for his or her services; the fact that there is an economic motivation for speech does not transform non-commercial speech into commercial speech.”
It’s a breath of fresh air to hear someone in a position of power recognize that people who practice spiritual counseling using tools that are outside of the mainstream are not always quacks.
Sadly, the judge in Patricia Moore-King’s case was not as open-minded and required her to obtain the fortune teller license after all.
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