A federal judge has invalidated yet another fortune telling ban, this time in Alexandria, Louisiana. Federal district court judge Dee Drell agreed with U.S. magistrate James Kirk (great name!) that the city's ban on fortune telling is unconstitutional.
Fortune teller Rachel Adams challenged the ordinance after a police officer issued her a summons, which would have cost her up to $500 a day. The ordinance banned all manner of crafty sciences, including fortune telling, astrology, and palm reading.
The section at issue is 15-127, Fortune-telling, phrenology, palmistry, etc.
It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in the business or practice of palmistry, card reading, astrology, fortune-telling, phrenology, mediums or activities of a similar nature within the city, regardless of whether a fee is charged directly or indirectly, or whether the services are rendered without a charge.
This type of ordinance is a garden variety "crafty sciences" prohibition, banning these practices whether or not they are offered for a fee. I would think that the judge looked to the reasoning in prior cases (Argellio, Rushman, and particularly Trimble). See an earlier post here. Such ordinances target speech. In order to defend them, the government must identify a compelling state interest; here it told the court that fortune telling was fraud and the state interest was to prevent fraud. However, in other such cases, judges have already rejected such arguments, saying that while some fortune tellers may be frauds, the government cannot say that all fortune tellers are frauds. One cannot paint an entire group with that brush. The judge in Trimble told the government that if it wanted to prosecute fortune tellers it could do so under a statute that specifically targeted fraud rather than under a statute aimed at speech.
Further, as another judge wrote, speech that a fortune teller delivers might come true in the future, or it might not. Until it positively has no possibility of coming true, the speaker cannot be branded a liar.
Magistrate Judge Kirk also notes that the ordinance cites as authority LSA: RS 4-7 allows the taxation and licensing of fortune telling, and suggests that if the state recognizes a difference between regulation and restriction, then an ordinance that bans fortune telling is in violation of the statute.
Case citation: Adams v. City of Alexandria, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97042.
Background on the case here.