Civil Liberties

Soothsayer Speech

No fortunetelling ban


The crystal ball is dim, but spirits and signs indicate further victories for freedom of speech, even when money changes hands and consumer protection is allegedly at stake.

In October a federal judge overturned a Livingston Parish, Louisiana, ban on "soothsaying, fortune telling, palm reading, clairvoyance, crystal ball gazing, mind reading, card reading and the like for a fee." U.S. District Judge James J. Brady ruled that the law, which was challenged by a store catering to the spiritual needs of Wiccans that hoped to move to the Livingston area, was a content-based prohibition that violated the First Amendment.

Robert McNamara, a lawyer at the Institute for Justice, is challenging another set of speech restrictions purportedly aimed at protecting consumers: Philadelphia's rules for historical tour guides (see "Talk of the Town," Citings, November). "Governments keep pushing at this boundary, but the fundamental principle is that government has no role in protecting people even from bad speech," McNamara says. "Courts have managed to hold strong [when such laws are challenged], but there's no controlling Supreme Court decision on this issue."

The Livingston Parish fortunetelling case will not become that controlling Supreme Court decision. With the portents clear, the parish council decided in November to repeal the unconstitutional ordinance rather than appeal Judge Brady's ruling.