Quick Notes: Fortunetelling Laws, Ali Sibat, and Vodun Activism

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  June 11, 2010 — Leave a comment

Let’s start off your weekend with a few quick notes.

Another Fortunetelling Law Overturned: The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled that fortunetelling and other psychic services are protected speech and cannot be outlawed by local ordinances. The ruling stems from a long legal battle by Montgomery County resident Nick Nefedro, who has been mentioned at this blog before, and his win may be the most devastating blow yet to laws targeting fortunetelling.

“Fortunetelling may be pure entertainment, it may give individuals some insight into the future or it may be hokum,” the Maryland Court of Appeals wrote in a 24-page opinion. “People who purchase fortunetelling services may or may not believe in its value. Fortunetellers may sometimes deceive their customers. We need not, however, pass judgment on the validity or the value of the speech that fortunetelling entails.”

Previous cases that overturned anti-fortunetelling ordinances often did so on religious grounds, but this case didn’t pursue a religious angle, and I thought it would suffer because of it; however, the appeal to freedom of speech seems to have been convincing. As a result, a much broader precedent has been reached, one that may be replicated in similar court battles. It remains to be seen if Montgomery County will now try to appeal to a Federal court. Nefedro was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland in this case, here’s an excerpt from their press release concerned the decision.

“This case has never been just about fortunetellers, but about the fundamental right to free speech,” said Ajmel Quereshi, an attorney with the ACLU of Maryland. “While individual fortunetellers can be punished if they fraudulently exploit their customers, banning all fortunetelling is overbroad and unconstitutional. It is not the role of government to decide that broad categories of speech can be banned merely because it finds them distasteful or disagreeable.”

Here’s hoping lawmakers across the country are paying attention to this decision.

When Will Ali Sibat Be Released? Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who was nearly executed for the crime of sorcery in Saudi Arabia but given a last-minute reprieve due to protests and political maneuvering, is still rotting in a cell, and his wife wants to know when he’ll be released.

“The wife of a Lebanese TV psychic convicted in Saudi Arabia on charges of witchcraft appealed for her husband’s release on Friday, just months after he escaped beheading in the kingdom. Samira Rahmoon, 46, said Lebanese officials promised her in April that her husband would soon come home, two years after Saudi religious police arrested him during a pilgrimage there … “We are lost,” said Rahmoon, clutching a cracked frame holding a photograph of her husband, 49-year-old Ali Sibat, during a small protest outside the prime minister’s office in Beirut.”

So far there is no word on when, or if, Sibat will be released from custody. Recently there have been signs that Saudi citizens are getting fed up with power plays by the local religious police, who have been locked in a political struggle with the country’s (relatively) more moderate monarchy. This battle has often seen members of other faiths, even if they are citizens of other countries, drawn into their machinations.

Curses on Trafficking: Benin (not to be confused with the modern day country of the Republic of Benin, formerly known as Dahomey), monarch Omo N’Oba Erediauwa has called on Vodun and other indigenous religious practitioners in Nigeria to place curses on those who would participate in human trafficking and kidnapping.

“The fight against kidnapping and related crimes took a fresh turn in Benin City, the Edo state capital on Thursday, as voodoo priests, herbalists and traditional worshippers came out in large numbers to invoke the wrath of the gods and place curses on persons behind the acts. The Benin monarch Omo N’Oba Erediauwa at a meeting with the traditional stakeholders last week, directed them to set aside this Thursday (yesterday) for the men in the kingdom to place curses on kidnappers, while the women would take their turn to perform the similar exercise tomorrow, Saturday.”

Human trafficking in Nigeria is a rampant problem, with even important officials taking part in the practice. This move by Omo N’Oba Erediauwa is canny since many accounts of have surfaced of Nigerian women and children being threatened into silence and slavery by Vodun curses and vows. If news of this public show of opposition by indigenous religious leaders spreads, it may counter-act some of the power these modern-day slavers hold over their victims.

That’s all I have for now, have a great weekend!

Send to Kindle

Jason Pitzl-Waters

Posts