Philly is closing down its psychic shops. Which has led to some interesting confessions from the psychics themselves:
Fortune-telling for profit is a third-degree misdemeanor. The law has been on the books for more than 30 years. Verdi said that he did not know how many shops operated in the city, but that he expected inspectors to close more in the days ahead. Inspectors are not imposing fines, and police are not making arrests, Verdi said, “but they will if these people try to return to work.” Most so-called psychics, he said, “are not little old ladies with kerchiefs on their heads” but clever con artists capable of stealing large sums – even life savings – from grieving or otherwise vulnerable people. The owner of Psychic, a fortune-telling shop at 2041 Walnut St., sat on his steps yesterday and complained bitterly about the police action. He would not give his name or his lawyer’s name. “First of all,” he said, “they’ve got to stop the 129 murders in this city. What we do is entertainment.” [emphasis added]
Now I’m quite sure that this law is unconstitutional, and it should be overturned. It is definitely a violation of protections on freedom of speech–if not religion. Why would I come out in favor of psychics? Because it’s a matter of principle. When evaluating laws and social mores, we all need to test their fairness by what would happen if our opponents were to apply the same standard to us. People have the right to be entertained.
If you close down the psychics, what do you do about the institutionalized religions which do the same thing on a larger scale? Let’s analyze what the psychics are accused of: “clever con artists capable of stealing large sums – even life savings – from grieving or otherwise vulnerable people.” This could describe most religions (especially Mormons, with their tax-return-like annual donation forms). The psychic quoted in the article made the connection: “critics considered that Jesus was a psychic, a fortune-teller, and they crucified him.”
The point is, it’s all entertainment. As soon as a person gets up and starts talking about invisible supernatural forces, or being a spokesman for the “word of god,” they are as much of a fraud as anyone else. They’re playing the same con game–by definition. Which is why they should be taken no more seriously than fortune-tellers. The most the law should do is require an advisory on churches and psychics: “for entertainment purposes only.” Caveat emptor.
Though I may be a staunch critic of religion, I’m first and foremost in the entertainment business. And I will defend all forms of entertainment as protected speech. Including organized religion. It’s up to us rational folk to change the state of affairs through persuasion and education–not by muzzling. If people want to continue to give their time, energy, and money to peddlers of fantasy, does it really matter if they’re sitting in a megachurch, or talking to grandma in the seance room of a storefront psychic?