Winning the Right to Tell Fortunes in Kalamazoo

December 18, 2014

When you woke up this morning, did you check your horoscope? Ask your Magic 8 Ball a question? If you get some take out tonight, will you read your fortune cookie? You’d better be careful if you’re in Kalamazoo.

Currently, the City of Kalamazoo enforces an ordinance against “the business or practice of phrenology, palmistry, or prognosticating or prophesying the future.”

We learned about this ordinance when a local spiritualist minister contacted us after he was prevented from conducting a consultation. Rev. Mark Hassett is a practicing pagan. When the city told a local bookstore that hosting Rev. Hassett while he performed a reading would violate the law, Rev. Hassett was forced to cancel the event.

If you think Kalamazoo is attracting some bad karma, you’re right. Courts across the country have struck down similar bans as violations of the First Amendment. And rightly so: governments should not be deciding which spiritual beliefs have merit and which are fraudulent.

Courts grant religious counselors from mainstream religions a great deal of deference when it comes to licensing requirements and negligence lawsuits. As the Supreme Court of Utah has noted, wading into the wisdom or correctness of spiritual advice would necessarily lead to “an excessive government entanglement with religion.”

The same logic holds true for ministers like Rev. Hassett. The government has no authority to tell him that his beliefs are false. Nor does it have authority to prevent willing listeners in Kalamazoo from hearing his advice.

This morning, we sent the city a letter demanding that they immediate stop enforcing this ordinance and repeal it as soon as possible. Happily, the Kalamazoo city attorney just emailed us to he’s directed the police not to enforce the ordinance and he will recommend the city commission repeal it.

As a federal judge in Louisiana recently said, the First Amendment means that continued enforcement of anti-fortune telling ordinances is simply “not in the cards” for cities.

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