Tarot: A Crime in Philadelphia
In a crackdown that couldn’t possibly stand up in court, tarot readers and other "fortune tellers" in Philadelphia have been shut down.
Suddenly they’re facing a very unhappy future.
Alerted to an obscure state law banning fortune-telling "for gain or lucre," the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections is closing storefront psychics, astrologers, phrenologists and tarot-card readers who charge money for their services.
Inspectors had closed 16 shops since Tuesday, Deputy L&I Commissioner Dominic E. Verdi said yesterday.
"We were not aware it was a crime," he said, "but the Police Department came to us a few days ago and showed us where the crime code prohibits psychic readings.
"We looked into it, and it’s clearly illegal. I was surprised."
Fortune-telling for profit is a third-degree misdemeanor. The law has been on the books for more than 30 years.
Verdi said that he did not know how many shops operated in the city, but that he expected inspectors to close more in the days ahead.
Philadelphia’s actions are unconstitutional — so unconstitutional that similar efforts to prohibit fortunetelling have failed in other parts of the country.
Even a cursory understanding of the Bill of Rights can explain why tarot reading is protected by federal law. Just check the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
At its most basic, reading tarot cards is a form of speech and self-expression.
Of course, there’s a religious component, too. I suspect that many fortune-telling laws were written by religious fundamentalists who decided divination was evil. When it comes to banning the practice, however, they’re out of luck. The First Amendment clearly prohibits laws designed to favor one religion over another.
In an ironic twist, the First Amendment could even protect tarot readers who believe that the cards are a key tool in their spiritual practices. I don’t know of anyone who believes the cards themselves actually constitute a religion — but a lot of us do use the cards for meditation, reflection, and communion with God, in the same way that Catholics, for example, focus on images of the Virgin Mary, the crucifix, rosaries, and prayer cards.
Let’s look at the Fourth Amendment next:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Where was the probable cause in determining that Philadelphia’s tarot readers have committed any crimes? Real crimes, that is, as opposed to violating an obscure, archaic ordinance. Have they all been stealing from their clients? Swindling little old ladies out of their nest eggs? If so, those types of offfenses are covered under other laws.
It’s hardly constitutional to penalize an entire group of citizens as criminals simply because they could break the law. A car salesman could rip someone off, too, but that’s no reason to go around town and shut down all the auto dealerships.
Let’s also consider the Fifth Amendment:
No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
So … Where are the indictments? How is it possible that Philadelphia’s fortune tellers could be deprived of their liberties merely on the presumption of a generalized "crime?"
And what would you make of the Eighth Amendment?
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
I don’t know, but it seems a little cruel and unusual to arbitrarily take someone’s livelihood away — especially after one arm of the government has already granted them a business license, as was apparently the case with a lot of the readers in Philadelphia.
I also wonder about the selective application of Philadelphia’s fortune-telling law. Did the police simultaneously raid the TV stations to shut down the weather forecasters? Did they storm the beauty salons to keep stylists from telling their clients that bangs would be really cute? Will any government officials burst into churches this weekend to prohibit preachers from describing heaven and hell to their congregations?
Because if you think about it, we’re all telling fortunes, all day, every day.
Some of us just illustrate our predictions with a deck of cards.
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PS: An astrology friend just sent me the actual law in question, and I think there’s a key word missing from the news report: "pretend." This is from her email:
The AFAN Steering Committee has already been notified and one member of the other group found the statute:
§ 7104. Fortune telling.
(a) Offense defined.–A person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree if he pretends for gain or lucre, to tell fortunes or predict future events, by cards, tokens, the inspection of the head or hands of any person, or by the age of anyone, or by consulting the movements of the heavenly bodies, or in any other manner, or for gain or lucre, pretends to effect any purpose by spells, charms, necromancy, or incantation, or advises the taking or administering of what are commonly called love powders or potions, or prepares the same to be taken or administered, or publishes by card, circular, sign, newspaper or other means that he can predict future events, or for gain or lucre, pretends to enable anyone to get or to recover stolen property, or to tell where lost property is, or to stop bad luck, or to give good luck, or to put bad luck on a person or animal, or to stop or injure the business or health of a person or shorten his life, or to give success in business, enterprise, speculation, and games of chance, or to win the affection of a person, or to make one person marry another, or to induce a person to make or alter a will, or to tell where money or other property is hidden, or to tell where to dig for treasure, or to make a person to dispose of property in favor of another.
Tarot readers don’t "pretend" to see the future. We really do!
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PPS: The American Tarot Association has issued a statement on the Philadelphia closures. I’m posting it after the jump.
American Tarot Association
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 4, 2007
Stephanie Lynch, President
The American Tarot Association
2901 Richmond Rd Ste 130 #123
Lexington, KY 40509-1763
Email: president@ata- tarot.com
STATEMENT FROM THE AMERICAN TAROT ASSOCIATION REGARDING CLOSURE OF TAROT AND PSYCHIC PRACTICES IN PHILADELPHIA
The American Tarot Association (ATA) does not condone any illegal practice of Tarot reading, and encourages its members to familiarize themselves with their local laws pertaining to the reading of the Tarot for both paying and non-paying clients. Further, the ATA has an established code of ethics for Tarot readers, designed to protect both consumers and readers.
The American Tarot Association applauds the decision of Philadelphia officials to re-open the businesses abruptly closed down last week. That said, the ATA holds that such sweeping revocation of licenses and closing of businesses without due process deserves investigation.
It is a dangerous practice to allow government to eradicate a viable, worthy industry that the government gave licensure to exist without a fair hearing. No small business, sole proprietor, or modern cottage industry of any kind is safe in a city where this is allowed to happen. The consequences to the clients and families of those now-closed practices are appalling. Where are the consequences to the
government officials who originally allowed those licenses?
The ATA strongly encourages an investigation into the events leading up to the closure of legitimate businesses so the public can be satisfied that no single person with a grudge can abuse public trust by using government officials to change the lives of tax-paying citizens and business owners.
The ATA also calls on other sole proprietorships, small businesses, and modern cottage industries located in Philadelphia to voice their concerns about the sudden closure of licensed businesses. If an antiquated law can be dug up to close down an entire industry this time, it can be done for other industries as well.
The situation in Philadelphia also clearly highlights the need for a change in laws regarding the reading of Tarot. These antiquated laws were presumably written with the intention of protecting consumers from unscrupulous people. Unfortunately, such laws also keep consumers from the excellent services of ethical Tarot readers and psychics.
Although the specific law in this case refers to fortune-tellers, the intent of the law was to address unscrupulous people, and at the time that law was written there were fewer protections for consumers. Today’s world is made of savvy consumers with access to the Better Business Bureau and many other resources to protect them. This antiquated law unfairly discriminates against all fortune tellers -
painting us all as unscrupulous, when the facts are far otherwise.
A Tarot reader is a person with a gift for helping a client better hear their own inner guides. Tarot readers empower clients to think through their options and come to decisions on their own. They remind clients that, whichever direction the cards may point, the future really lays in the hands of each individual person. Further, readers encourage clients to seek the professional help of doctors,
counselors, lawyers – especially in cases where the client’s concern is serious.
The majority of Tarot readers are not in this business for the money. They are in it because they have a sincere wish to use their gifts to help people, and often live in very simple circumstances because they frequently prioritize people over money. How many other businesses in Philadelphia are as client-first as these small businesses that have been forced to close? The government has truly not operated in the
best interest of its citizens with this decision.
Often when a consumer is experiencing an internal struggle regarding their emotions or weighing their options, they look for some form of spiritual guidance. Some choose prayer. Some choose a psychologist. Some choose a trusted friend or relative. And some choose Tarot readers and psychics. Such spiritual and internal seeking is a healthy part of the human condition, and should be encouraged, not dismissed. This country is crying out for spiritual/internal guidance. Consider how fast "The Secret" is flying off bookshelves.
Laws cannot change the fact that consumers will choose to consult the Tarot to help them consider options in their lives. Good laws can help consumers be protected from the unscrupulous yet still protect the consumer’s freedom to seek guidance where they see fit. The ATA is willing to collaborate with elected officials to design laws that both protect consumers and protect the free-market system upon which this country was founded.
In a free-market system, there are unscrupulous practitioners in every industry: construction; medicine; legal services; investment companies; etc. It is not the government’s role to debilitate an entire industry with over-restrictive laws in order to protect the consumer. Such governmental interference can be economically destructive, as modern cottage industries, sole proprietorships, and small businesses are viable contributors to the localities in which they choose to operate.
However, the government can play a role in the empowerment of consumers to make the best possible choices. The American Tarot Association stands ready to collaborate with elected officials to redraft pertinent antiquated laws to achieve that goal.
All Tarot readers who have been affected by this situation are encouraged to contact the ATA at VPOutreach@ata- tarot.com.