Otherworldly Communications are Protected Speech

Ordinances against fortune telling have a long history, from bans on sorcery and witchcraft in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Europe, embodied today in places like Saudi Arabia, to anti-fraud bans (often based in various ethnic prejudices) in the 19th century, to current laws that claim to be protecting citizens from fraud, but are often pushed by conservative Christian lawmakers. For generations those who practiced fortune-telling as a profession existed on the margins of society, usually depicted as mere swindlers preying on the gullible, until a new ethos started to emerge that classified divination as an art. Part of a spiritual and religious tradition that practitioners felt should be respected, and not subject to laws designed to outlaw those engaging in parlor tricks. In the United States, many anti-fortune-telling laws have been challenged on the grounds of religious freedom, notably Z. Budapest’s very public 1975 battle against a California ordinance. More recently, Wiccans in places like Caspar, Wyoming, and Livingston Parish, Louisiana, succeeded in getting ordinances struck down on this basis.

A Few Quick Notes

A few news items I wanted to share with you this Saturday morning. We start off with a glowing profile of the Starwood Festival from Mark Mansfield of Stereo Subversion. “The best festival I’ve ever participated in, I heard about through word of mouth fifteen years ago. Festival has many different meanings depending on the person. The Hippie might be thinking about Rothbury this year, with it’s heavy Deadhead lineup.

Imprisoned Asatru and Thor’s Hammer

David L. Hudson Jr. at the First Amendment Center reports on a recent legal case in which an imprisoned adherent to Asatru (Nordic Paganism) won the right to wear a Thor’s Hammer pendant. Even more remarkable is the fact that the prisoner, Forest Fisher, represented himself in court. “Inmate Forest Fisher sued the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) and various prison officials after they denied his request for Thor’s Hammer, while allowing inmates of other religions to wear various medallions. Fisher, who proceeded pro se – without an attorney – contended that these actions violated his First Amendment to freely exercise his religious faith, the federal law known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and his equal-protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.”The Virginia Department of Corrections’ case wasn’t helped by the fact that prison officials denied Fisher his legal due process in his applications to wear a Thor’s Hammer.”However, in his May 25 ruling in Fisher v. Virginia, U.S. Magistrate Michael F. Urbanski took issue with the prison officials’ failure to follow their own procedure in submitting Fisher’s request to the Faith Review Committee … Urbanski stressed that the defendants’ arguments “flatly ignore the fact that Fisher submitted the appropriate paperwork to the appropriate institutional employee for FRC consideration, but that the employee failed to forward his request as required under the VDOC FRC procedures.”