Psychic Found Guilty Of Fraud: Did She Know This Would Happen?

gypsy-fortune-teller2Now that the required joke is out of the way, I can more soberly state that the New York conviction of psychic Sylvia Mitchell for larceny and fraud opens up a welter of ethical, legal and religious issues. Law prof-blogger Ann Althouse is troubled by the result, writing,

“In my book, this is entertainment and unconventional psychological therapy. Let the buyer beware. Who’s dumb enough to actually believe this? Should the government endeavor to protect everyone who succumbs to the temptation to blow a few bucks on a fortune teller?”

Clearly not, and that’s where courts and states generally land in this matter, as in the case I wrote on three years ago, Nefredo v. Montgomery County. There the courts ruled (in Maryland) that it was an infringement of free speech for Maryland to ban what is, for most, just an exercise in supernatural entertainment. But the New York case involved a little bit more than that: Mitchell apparently bilked some clients out of significant amounts, getting $27,000 from one in an “exercise in letting go of money,”  $18,000 from another to put in a jar as a way to relieve herself of “negative energy,” and thousands from other clients to purchase “supplies” for various rituals—what does the eye of a newt go for these days?

Admittedly this seems to cross the line from harmless, if stupid, entertainment into preying on the stupid and gullible, but that doesn’t convince Althouse that the conviction, or the prosecution is a legitimate use of government power. She reminds us about the Supreme Court case of U.S. v. Ballard, in which the Court upheld the conviction of a faith healer for fraud. The SCOTUS majority, headed by William O. Douglas, held that if the faith healer didn’t believe in her claimed powers, then she was a fraud, and thus could be prosecuted under the Constitution if she used a claim of false powers to take money from her clients. In a sharp and thought-provoking dissent, Justice Robert Jackson wrote in part… Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Justice Antonin Scalia

“Justice Alito recounts all these disgusting video games in order to disgust us — but disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression.” 

Justice Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in the majority opinion of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association that over-turned a California law restricting the access of children to violent video games. Scalia was responding to the argument by conservative colleague Joseph Alito, who described the wide range of violent and offensive experiences a child could have though video-gaming, such as reenacting the shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech,  raping Native American women or killing ethnic and religious minorities.

Scalia is the Supreme Court justice liberals love to hate, but he is the most stalwart defender of the First Amendment since Justice William O. Douglas and Justice Hugo Black on the Warren Court. As political warfare increasingly focuses on the tactic of suppressing and inhibiting speech and ideas rather than rebutting them, Scalia’s uniform rejection of any effort to squelch the free exchange of ideas, even disgusting ideas, is the last line of defense against government-imposed political correctness, nanny state thought control, and puritan censorship. While sufficiently important ends, such as protecting our children and our culture, may justify some extreme means, Scalia’s opinion reaffirms the core American principle that those means can never include government restriction of speech in its broadest definition. Continue reading