A federal judge has overturned a city ordinance in Alexandria, Louisiana that banned fortune telling, ruling that the law violates the First Amendment. The Associated Press reports:
A federal judge has struck down a central Louisiana ordinance banning fortunetelling, palm reading, astrology and similar activities in the city of Alexandria.
U.S. District Judge Dee Drell’s ruling Wednesday concurs with a magistrate’s conclusion that the ordinance is unconstitutional…
The city argued the business of fortunetelling is a fraud and inherently deceptive, but U.S. Magistrate James Kirk concluded that fortunetelling is free speech protected by the First Amendment.
As always, I have mixed feelings about this issue. On the one hand, I think much of what goes on here is outright fraud (the rest, for those who genuinely believe they can see the future, is unwitting fraud). But that’s really no different from virtually any faith-based belief, which means the government would be picking and choosing which superstitious belief systems are allowed and which are not. As the judge writes:
Based on its own clairvoyance, the City has decreed in brief that it is impossible to predict the future, and contends the business of fortune-telling is a fraud and is inherently deceptive…. The City suggests that “fortune-tellers have no demonstrable facts upon which to base their predictions.”… The danger of the government deciding what is true and not true, real and unreal, should be obvious. For example, some might say that a belief in God or in a particular religion, for example, or in the “Book of Revelations” is not supported by demonstrable facts. Books that repeat the predictions of Nostradamus and the daily newspaper horoscope could be banned under the City’s reasoning.
On the other hand, giving such frauds protection under the guise of religion makes it trivially easy for someone to create what is essentially a rackateering ring with the thin veneer of religion over the top — see the “Church” of Scientology as a perfect example. In the end, it’s simply too dangerous to have the government picking and choosing which religious beliefs get protection despite the total lack of evidence for their claims and which do not. Yes, that inevitably means that people will get bilked out of their money by con men in religious — or “spiritualist” — garb. Such is the price of freedom in a world where religion remains dominant.