US Fortunes of Fortune-telling
This strange case raised some important issues - mainly regarding the invisible boundary between freedom of speech and claims that are unproven and hence possibly fraudulent.
US Fortunes of Fortune-telling
Last week in Alexandria, Louisiana, on the basis that it is free speech protected by the First Amendment, U.S. District Judge Dee Drell ruled that he was overturning a law which had outlawed astrology, palm reading, tarot, fortune-telling and other forms of divination.
The grounds cited for the ban - that the practices are fraudulent and inherently deceptive - were judged unsafe constitutionally, and meant that the case brought by fortune-teller Rachel Adams was found in her favour, having successfully sued to overturn the law.
Some 15% of Americans have, at one time or another, consulted a psychic or fortune-teller, whose services are in high demand, and even more so in these tough hard economic times. This strange case raised some important issues - mainly regarding the invisible boundary between freedom of speech and claims that are unproven and hence possibly fraudulent.
There are, of course, exceptions to free speech that go beyond yelling fire in a crowded theater. People who lie on their tax returns can be convicted of tax evasion, and those who lie in a court of law can be convicted of perjury, which under federal law is a felony. Companies, also, are legally prohibited from making false statements about their merchandise; Ford cannot claim its cars get 200 miles per gallon, and vitamin manufacturers cannot advertise that their pills cure cancer. But other cases are murkier.
Last month the Supreme Court ruled that Xavier Alvarez, a sham Medal of Honour recipient-claiming public official could not be prosecuted under the 2006 Stolen Valor Act law - which makes it a criminal offence to falsely claim ownership of any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the United States Armed Forces - because he claimed his lies to have been free speech protected by the First Amendment, with which the Supreme Court agreed.
Many so-called psychics, and indeed fortune-tellers also adopt similar strategies, claiming their services to be for entertainment only and therefore inherently unreliable, yet their clients often do take advice given seriously, making many vital life decisions based upon fortune-telling consultations. Since $40 to $100 per hour is the amount most psychics typically charge, this is truly expensive entertainment.
It is the confidence schemes involved, which include fraud and the theft by deception that often accompany fortune-telling which the police detest, like the expensive lifting of imaginary curses, often costing victims tens of thousands of dollars, as well as the perverse and awful sexual exploitation that goes on.
This is, to be honest, a legal and ethical minefield, because even though psychic powers and prediction remain unproven, very many still believe in the power of psychics, a fact which means they are preyed upon by the unscrupulous. Problem is, the question of whether it can be either ethical or moral to accept money - for a scientifically questionable service - even one you believe in, remains wide open.