City’s ban on fortune telling violates 1st Amendment

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause In Adams v. City of Alexandria, (WD LA, July 11, 2012), a Louisiana federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97042, June 20, 2012) and entered a declaratory judgment that a city’s ban on “palmistry, card reading, astrology, fortune-telling, [and] phrenology” violates the First Amendment.  Plaintiff is a tarot card reader who reads fortunes in exchange for voluntary donations. The magistrate rejected the city’s argument that the ordinance merely regulates commercial speech. Applying strict scrutiny to the ordinance, the magistrate said:

Based on its own clairvoyance, the City has decreed in brief that it is impossible to predict the future, and contends the business of fortune-telling is a fraud and is inherently deceptive….  The City suggests that “fortune-tellers have no demonstrable facts upon which to base their predictions.”… The danger of the government deciding what is true and not true, real and unreal, should be obvious. For example, some might say that a belief in God or in a particular religion, for example, or in the “Book of Revelations” is not supported by demonstrable facts. Books that repeat the predictions of Nostradamus and the daily newspaper horoscope could be banned under the City’s reasoning.

In adopting the magistrate’s recommendations, the federal district judge added one comment–  as a supplement to a footnote in the magistrate’s opinion. The footnote had said that Tarot cards are a set of 22 pictorial playing cards. The court added:

tarot cards come in many forms, some dating back centuries…. Tarot decks are often 78 card decks, consisting of face cards (sometimes called Major Arcana) and number cards…. It is usually the 22 face cards that are used in fortune telling. We note also with interest that the “art” of fortune telling proliferates in front of St. Louis Cathedral, in the City of New Orleans, apparently without incident.