Psychic Wars

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One of my top stories for 2007 concerned the legal (taxation, regulation, and outright bans) battles over psychic readings. While some places, like the city of Salem (or the entire state of Michigan), see psychic readers and other divination services as a fiscal boon, others, like Livingston Parish in Louisiana, view the banning of psychic readings as part of a holy endeavor.

“Harrell and councilmen Jimmy McCoy and Eddie Wagner said they have no plans to change their votes. Other council members did not comment on where they stand. ‘I got elected to represent my constituents,’ McCoy said. ‘I am a Christian and I love the Lord, period. We can vote today or next month, my vote won’t change.'”

But it looks like “loving the Lord” will wind them all up in court, since Wiccan store owner Cliff Eakin has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the anti-fortune telling ordinance.

“In Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Tuesday, a local business that wants to offer fortune telling has filed a federal lawsuit challenging on constitutional grounds a Livingston Parish ordinance that prohibits it. KATC News reports that Gryphon’s Nest Gifts Inc. filed suit alleging in part that the ban on “soothsaying, fortune telling, palm reading, clairvoyance, crystal ball gazing, mind reading, card reading and the like for money or other consideration” was an attempt to promote Christianity over paganism. The complaint alleges that the ban “primarily affects pagan leaders and pagan church members who are most likely to support themselves or increase their income by performing divination for consideration.” The suit also raises vagueness and free speech claims.”

While banning psychics was once seen as an easy political move to garner an image as a moral crusader fighting fraud (and activities that carry a Biblical injunction), in the last thirty years the business has changed. It isn’t simply a bevy of frauds peddling fake “curses” and a smattering of sweet old ladies making a buck on the side, the business has been steadily infiltrated by modern Pagans, Afro-diasporic faiths (VooDoo, Santeria, etc), and the New Age movement, many of whom see divination work as a spiritual calling.

These groups on the whole are more affluent (relatively speaking), more aware of their legal rights (and hence more litigious), and more rooted in their communities than the stereotypical image of the fly-by-night con-man (or woman) who makes a living grifting from the margins. As such, laws against all forms of divination are being met with fierce resistance, and are being overturned or having enforcement dropped due to social and legal pressures.

The truth is, you can’t ban an activity simply because there is the chance of fraud, lest almost any other capitalistic venture be banned as well. You certainly can’t (perhaps “shouldn’t” is the more correct term here) ban an activity because one religious text outlaws it. As religious minorities who lean on income from divination to get along grow in size, it will become increasingly hard to enforce or pass laws against it. Livingston Parish is on the wrong side of history with their misguided actions, and even if they manage to fight off this legal challenge, it is only a matter of time before the ordinance is struck down or rendered unenforceable.