Or should that be “ethical treatment for charlatans”?
In the case of Nefredo v. Montgomery County, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that it was an infringement of the Right of Free Speech for the Montgomery County, Md., to deny a business license to a fortune-teller on the basis of a County ordinance that declared charging a fee for fortune-telling services was a crime. The ordinance states:
“Every person who shall demand or accept any remuneration or gratuity for forecasting or foretelling or for
pretending to forecast or foretell the future by cards, palm reading or any other scheme, practice or device shall be subject to punishment for a class B violation as set forth in section 1-19 of chapter 1 of the County Code; and in any warrant for a violation of the above provisions, it shall be sufficient to allege that the defendant forecast or foretold or pretended to forecast or foretell the future by a certain scheme, practice or device
without setting forth the particular scheme, practice or device employed…”
Of course the Court is correct that the ordinance was a restriction on free speech based on content, which the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights explicitly says the government must not do. Montgomery County’s abuse of power went beyond that, however. It arbitrarily singled out fortune-tellers for an official declaration that their conduct was fraudulent, taking away potential livelihood, without proof of harm, evidence of fraud, or even adequate thought about the slippery slope the ordinance starts the State going down. Many people go to palm readers, mediums psychics and fortune-tellers out of curiosity or for pure entertainment. Those customers are not being defrauded or harmed. Some who patronize fortune-tellers and believe in their powers are impressed and pleased with what they hear. Some psychics and fortune-tellers genuinely believe in their own powers: who can they be defrauding anyone? More importantly, how can Montgomery County be 100% certain that no fortune-teller is genuine?
Many Metropolitan police departments have used mediums in desperation to solve serial killings and other crimes. Allison DuBois, the Phoenix medium who has assisted police many times and whose life is mirrored in the Emmy-winning CBS drama “Medium,” may be deluded, lucky or mistaken, but every indication is that she believes in her psychic powers, and her success using her dreams to break murder cases at least creates a prima facie case that she might be correct.
It is also unfair to single out this dubious occupation for State prejudice. There is legitimate skepticism about the legitimacy of psychiatrists, life coaches, chiropractors, faith healers, acupuncturists, astrologers, ghost-hunters, exorcists, priests, reverends, politicians and ethicists. In cases of real fraud, there are laws in place to seek redress, but it is blatantly unethical for the government to simply declare an occupation inherently illegitimate without fair and substantive findings.
It’s impossible to prove that no one can, could or will ever see into the future, you say? Very true. And that means that the State cannot ethically or legally act as if it knows it isn’t possible.
You can read the Court’s opinion here.