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Monday, August 19, 2013

Fortune Telling a "Way of Life" Not a Religion

It is possible for a municipality to regulate fortune tellers without running afoul of the First Amendment's protection of free speech and religion.  
In Chesterfield County, Virginia, a “fortune teller” engaged in the occupation of “occult services,” including fortune tellers, palmists, astrologists, or other advisor “who in any other manner claims or pretends to tell fortunes or claims or pretends to disclose mental faculties of individuals for any form of compensation.” In addition to the payment of business license fees and other regulations, “occult sciences” are only allowed in select zoning districts by conditional use permit.

Rather than pay the required license fee for her spiritual counseling business, Patricia Moore-King (a.k.a “Psychic Sophie”) challenged the County regulatory scheme as a violation of her rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, in addition to her rights under RLUIPA. The District Court granted the County summary judgment, finding the business of predicting future events to be “quintessential deception” entitled to no First Amendment protection. Alternatively, the District Court found the regulation to be permissible regulations of commercial speech, or valid time, place, and manner restrictions.

Psychic Sophie appealed, and the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals found that fortune telling is entitled to some measure of First Amendment protection because it is not “inherently deceptive” on the basis it involves predictive speech.  Moore-King v. County of Chesterfield, Va., 708 F.3d 560 (4th Cir. 2013).  Nevertheless, the Court upheld the County's regulations, relying on the “professional speech” doctrine which allows the government to employ generally applicable regulations for those providing services involving speech without running afoul of the First Amendment.  The fact that no accrediting institution exists for fortune tellers supports the County’s additional regulatory requirements.  Finally, the Court concluded that Psychic Sophie’s collection of beliefs amounted to a “way of life,” rather than a religion entitled to protection under the First Amendment's right to free exercise of religion or RLUIPA. 
Psychic Sophie continues to practice her "way of life" on psychicsophie.com, where she provides readings via email and Skype, and payment can be made using your paypal account.

Post Authored by Dan Bolin, Ancel Glink


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