- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. | Behold, the future is being revealed and it looks bright for fortunetellers, clairvoyants, tarot card readers and anyone claiming to contact spirits in this corner of northern New England.

Soothsaying might still be banned in some parts of the country, but St. Johnsbury has repealed the ordinance against peering into the future that it had on the books since 1966.

“When the ordinance was lifted, I actually felt a large weight lifting from my shoulders,” said Maria Pawlowski, a tarot card reader. “It was very oppressive to have to refrain from something that was as natural to me as breathing.”

Fear of fraud has prompted many communities to ban fortunetelling, but critics say it’s not government’s place to decide whether such personal beliefs or practices are fraudulent.

Last year in Philadelphia, city inspectors shut down the businesses of more than a dozen psychics, astrologers and tarot-card readers after discovering a decades-old state law that bans fortunetelling for profit.

Also last year, Louisiana’s Livingston Parish made soothsaying, fortunetelling, palm reading and crystal-ball gazing illegal; a Wiccan minister filed a challenge in federal court.

A ban in Lincoln, Neb., was struck down by a federal appeals court in 1998 as unconstitutional.

“People have the right to believe in these things and to predict the future, to say what they think and even to charge money for it,” said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar with the First Amendment Center in Washington. “The government has no power to determine whether or not these people are committing fraud.”

Critics of such bans warn that other activities could be called into question.

“We have people who predict what the stock market is going to do. We have people who predict the weather and get paid for it,” Mr. Haynes said.

St. Johnsbury lifted its ban in July at the urging of psychotherapist Jean O’Neal, who said the ordinance outlawed something she practices: feng shui, the ancient Chinese practice of harmonizing one’s environment for health and financial benefits.

“I said something needs to be done about this. This is ridiculous,” Miss O’Neal said. “The way I lay out my office … it wasn’t legal.”

Town officials said they don’t know why the ordinance was passed in the first place. Perhaps there were concerns about “clairvoyants and the like,” said Ed Zuccaro, the town attorney.

“Someone was afraid,” Miss O’Neal said.

Since the ban was lifted, Miss O’Neal said, she can feel comfortable practicing feng shui. She also has opened her space to Miss Pawlowski to offer card readings.

“I’m very pleased,” Miss O’Neal said of the repeal. “I think it means that people are being open-minded to other ways of being healthy.”

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