The town of Richlands in Virginia banned tarot card readings and general “fortune telling” last year, presumably as a way to curb fraud and abuse but also in response to one particular business (Mountain Magic and Tarot Shop) owned by Pagans who offered those services in all sincerity.
Despite pleas from Pagans and other secular defenders of the First Amendment, the town council refuses to reverse the ban, which came in the form of a new zoning ordinance.
There was a confrontational and lively debate at a Richlands Town Council meeting this week where elected officials were considering whether or not to reverse their decision, with people arguing passionately on both sides.
Opponents and proponents alike crammed elbow to elbow in the town council meeting room, with droves of people overflowing into the hallway at Town Hall. Community members came to speak both in favor and in opposition to the proposed change that was perpetuated by a perceived ban on tarot readings inside Richlands businesses.
“I’m not the first person to ever tell fortunes in town,” said Mountain Magic owner Mark Mullins. “I’m just the first person wanting to do it legally, I guess.”
Mullins filed the application with the Richlands Planning Commission to add fortune telling as a permitted use for a business. Fortune telling is an umbrella term that includes tarot readings and other forms of divination.
Keep in mind Mullins even offered his fortune-telling services for free at the store… only to be told by local law enforcement officials that he was breaking the law then, too. Ironically, doing the readings on the sidewalk instead of inside the store is legal, so they’ve begun doing that. If the goal of elected officials was to ban such readings in a legal way, they’ve effectively moved the practice to the public square, where everyone can see it. Talk about a plan backfiring.
There’s a secular argument to be made against fortune telling because it cons people out of money, but that argument disappears when the service is offered for free. At that point, it becomes a question of whether the ban violates the First Amendment. Shouldn’t people have the right to practice their superstitions?
Mullins appears to be a reasonable person who just wants to do things by the books, but the council refused to even vote on undoing the ban. The people on Mullins’ side argued about personal liberty, freedom, and non-discriminatory business practices, while the other side… mostly just quoted the Bible.
Despite the large number of supporters to show up at the hearing, Mullins was met by overwhelming opposition, the majority of whom cited biblical teachings as reasoning for a denial.
Some said they feared for their family’s safety if the town permitted the practice to go on inside the store. Others argued the practice would open up “demonic realms” which young children would be subjected to. Others said they feared a failure to prevent the change would go against them on judgment day.
“I don’t really want my children thinking that’s OK if they go in there and they get confused and don’t know what something is,” one woman said, adding, “If we open that up in this area and we’re letting people go into this, will their blood be required of our hands?”
I’m sorry if you might have to actually educate your kids about other belief systems, but that’s no reason to deny other people their rights to operate a legitimate business. I don’t believe in fortune telling, but it’s hard to argue against mediums selling their services to those who want to pay for it especially when the same product (albeit in a different flavor) is sold in churches all the time.
Members of the Pagan community reassured the townspeople that they aren’t trying to corrupt their children, and at least one person who wasn’t Christian or Pagan stood up for the rights of the fortune tellers.
A speaker who said she didn’t adhere to either religion told the commission and council that most of the arguments against the change were irrelevant.
“The law is in place that there should be no law upon religion, so religious issues, as far as the church is preaching, is completely and totally irrelevant to your vote.”
The speaker’s right. Religion is not a good reason to ban anything, let alone a similar religious practice from another faith. After all, what is prayer, if not another form of fortune telling?
For that reason, the town should reverse the ban. There’s no sensible reason to prevent one form of superstition when plenty of others are allowed.
(Image via Shutterstock)