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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Psychic Must Pay State Fortune Teller Tax

WASHINGTON (CN) - The 4th Circuit refused to reverse a decision dismissing the First Amendment complaint of a Virginia psychic who claimed her county's $300 business tax violates her rights.

Sophie King, who says she's a "spiritual counselor" and not a fortune teller, lost her bid to shirk $343.75 in fortune teller license tax, penalties and accrued interest when a district court judge affirmed Chesterfield County's regulatory rights while dismissing King's speech as "quintessential deception."

King appealed, but the federal appeals court affirmed the ruling, though Circuit Judge Allyson Duncan stated that predicting the future does garner limited protections under the First Amendment.

"If, as the County contended at oral argument, all predictive speech were inherently deceptive, most religious prophesy, financial prognostication, and medical diagnosis would fall outside the scope of constitutional protection," Duncan states.

In her 2009 complaint, King said she is "not interested in future events," but offers spiritual counseling through 'tarot, Reiki, energy healing, astrology and psychic, clairvoyant, clairaudient, and medium abilities."

She also professed a strong belief in the "words and teachings of Jesus ... which [she] believe[s] are incorporated into tarot cards."

King said Chesterfield County unconstitutionally classifies her as "engaged in the occupation of occult sciences," and subject to the county's business tax and zoning rules, though she insisted that she belonged in her building, which also hosts psychologists and marriage counselors.

"Assuming without deciding that Moore-King is situated similarly to the entities she identifies, we nonetheless conclude that she fails to carry her burden of negating 'every conceivable basis which might support' the County's zoning and licensing ordinances," Duncan states. "The County may believe it appropriate to impose higher entry costs or more stringent zoning limitations on those seeking to open a business as a fortune teller than on 'other office uses' such as financial advisers, party planners, nonprofit organizations, or import-export companies - the examples Moore-King gives - in order to discourage the - in Moore-King's words - 'innumerable scam artists' that might otherwise operate as fortune tellers and take advantage of the County's citizens."

The three-judge panel affirmed the district court ruling.

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