Can local governments tell diviners, psychics, and practitioners of other related predictive arts where to go? According to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, yes, they can. On February 26th a three-judge panel upheld a lower court ruling that said Sophie Moore-King, aka Sophie King, aka “Psychic Sophie,” is not exempt from zoning codes and taxes aimed at psychics even though she claims to be engaged in religious counseling and immune from these regulations. “As the government complies with the professional speech doctrine by enacting and implementing a generally applicable regulatory regime, the fact that such a scheme may vary from profession to profession recedes in constitutional significance. Just as the internal requirements of a profession may differ, so may the government’s regulatory response based on the nature of the activity and the need to protect the public. See Post, supra at 134 n.83 (“The shape and form of constitutional protections extended to professional speech will depend upon the precise constitutional values at stake.”).
In the beginning of 2010 I reported on the case of Patricia Moore-King (aka “Psychic Sophie”), a psychic practitioner/spiritual counselor who challenged Chesterfield County’s onerous zoning regulations designed to discourage tarot readers, psychics, astrologers, and other practitioners of “occult sciences” from opening up a shop. King maintains that she wasn’t a “fortune teller” but engaged in a form of religious counseling, and therefore the regulations didn’t apply to her. The County of Chesterfield’s laws classify Ms. King’s activities as “the occupation of occult sciences” and therefore defines her as a “fortune-teller” (she does not identify herself as such), which subjects her to numerous restrictions including a background investigation, a criminal record check, review by the chief of police and other requirements related to her “character” and “demeanor” that are not required of any other religious or commercial enterprise within the County. These restrictions also do not apply to other religious or secular counselors, or even to persons “pretending to act” as fortune-tellers. The County’s zoning code also restricts Ms. King’s activities to a zoning district that includes adult businesses, pawnbrokers, material reclamation yards, and vehicle impoundment lots, and forbids her from the zoning district where her current office is located and where other counselors are permitted.
The Perils of Spiritual Counseling: It looks like U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne isn’t going to issue a ruling in the case of Patricia Moore-King v. County of Chesterfield, Virginia at this time. Instead, Payne says both Chesterfield County, and Patricia Moore-King failed to failed to press for a final resolution on a local level before heading to court. “Payne did not issue an official ruling, but said it seemed that neither King nor county officials followed through on her attempt to get a license and that she needed to press for a formal resolution of the dispute before going to court. “I want her to go back and do it right,” Payne said.” So it looks like we’ll have to await a formal resolution on a local level, and I’m not sure exactly what that will entail.
The Associated Press reports that a federal hearing in Richmond, VA is scheduled today in the case of Patricia Moore-King v. County of Chesterfield, Virginia over local anti-fortune telling ordinances. I covered this case back in January, where I detailed the absurdly over-restrictive hurdles of practicing an “occult science” in Chesterfield County. “The current zoning regulations are designed for just one thing, to discourage tarot readers, psychics, astrologers, and other practitioners of “occult sciences” from opening up a shop in Chesterfield. That licensing for this classification is more onerous than for a strip club or pawn shop, and relegates them to the “red light” district (not to mention the character references), tells you a bit about the priorities of the county.” Patricia Moore-King (aka Sophie King, aka “Psychic Sophie”) has maintained throughout that she doesn’t identify as a “fortune teller” but as a spiritual counselor, and that the ordinances place an undue burden on her free religious expression.
When you use tarot cards are you engaging in an “occult science”, or are you providing “spiritual counseling”? Who gets to make that distinction? Chesterfield County in Virginia thinks that they get to, but a lawsuit by a local tarot card reader is challenging that assumption. “Sophie King, who said she offers spiritual counseling, filed the lawsuit in the belief that the county’s classification of her business as “engaged in the occupation of occult sciences” is wrong. She also said the business tax and zoning rules that come with the classification are unfair and violate her First Amendment rights.