Agreeing with ACLU Arguments, Tennessee Court Overturns Local Ban on Fortune-Telling

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
June 7, 2004 12:00 am

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NASHVILLE — In a victory for free speech, Federal District Court Judge Robert Echols today struck down a local ban on fortune telling in a challenge brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee.

“The protections of the First Amendment ensure that our government may not decide which ideas are right or wrong,”” said Barbara Moss, a cooperating attorney with the ACLU of Tennessee. “”A person is free to write or sell books saying that the earth is flat or the moon is made of green cheese. Our client should be free to make predictions, for fun or profit, without government interference.””

The ACLU filed the lawsuit in last July on behalf of Beth Daly, owner of The Curiosity Corner in Dickson. The shop sells candles, yoga supplies, local artwork, books, and music. Until she was notified about the city ordinance that prohibits fortune telling, Daly was regularly holding tarot readings in her shop.

Daly was told by city officials that she could not continue to conduct tarot card readings for profit at her shop because the activities violated a Dickson City Ordinance that prohibits “any person to conduct the business of, solicit for, or ply the trade of fortune teller, clairvoyant, hypnotist, spiritualist, palmist, phrenologist, or other mystic endowed with supernatural powers.””

In October 2003, that ordinance was repealed by the city council and replaced by a new ordinance placing regulations on fortune-telling, including a requirement that fortune-tellers to display written disclaimers on their premises and in their advertising. The ACLU then amended its complaint to challenge the constitutionality of the new ordinance.

In his ruling today, Judge Echols rejected the city’s argument that the new ordinance was drawn simply to protect its citizens from fraud. “”Fraud arises from false statements and an intent to deceive,”” the judge said. “”However, this regulation does not apply merely to deceptive practices. Rather, it applies to anyone telling fortunes for profit and to all they say in that capacity.””

The court found that the regulation requiring a fortune teller to display a sign with certain language at her place of business “”is content-based because it concerns the telling of fortunes, not the advertisements for that service.””

The ACLU noted that it had advised Dickson city officials in January 2003 that a number of federal courts have rejected similar fortune telling bans, and asked the city to repeal the ordinance. But the city did not respond to the ACLU’s request, and filing the lawsuit was the only way to protect Daly’s free speech rights.

The ACLU lawsuit, Daly v. Dickson, was filed in United States District Court, Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division.

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