Charleston vs. the Tarot Reader

June 3rd, 2011 § 0 comments

An interesting legal case is developing in Charleston, South Carolina. And a Tarot reader is at the center of the controversy.

In March 2010, Jonathan Spiel, a street performer and Tarot reader, set up his table, chairs, mirrors, candles and cards, on the sidewalk in downtown Charleston. He sat there with his dog, available for readings if people asked.

Police showed up four times while he was there, and each time, gave him a ticket for making charitable solicitations without a permit. These charges were later dropped, as it doesn’t appear that he was soliciting anyone.

In May 2010, police gave him four more tickets, this time for not having an ‘encroachment permit’, something he couldn’t get because used a table and chairs.

Later that month, Spiel decided to set up again, this time using a wheelchair as both his chair and a makeshift table. According to him, it was an attempt to avoid the encroachment issue.

When police told him to take down his wheelchair setup, he instead offered himself up for arrest, and was charged with disorderly conduct.

Now, the ACLU has taken up his case, claiming that city police violated Spiel’s right to free speech.

Their concern isn’t so much with his Tarot reading, but rather in what they see as his right to be in a public place, with furniture, and to speak to people when spoken to.

Susan Dunn of the ACLU, believes Spiel was being targeted simply because his presence was deemed offensive.

When the solicitation charges didn’t stick, police changed the offense. From her perspective, they were just looking for a reason to move him on.

She worries that this action could be precedent for targeting other forms of free speech, like volunteers with tables seeking petition signatures, or painters with easels.

Ravi Sanyal, an attorney representing the city, doesn’t see it that way at all. He claims the police have a right to clear sidewalks in order to protect pedestrians and drivers, prevent traffic jams and to keep Charleston visually appealing.

For him, the facts are clear; Spiel broke the law and needs to pay his fines.

I look forward to seeing how this goes. Spiel being a card reader has virtually nothing to do with the case, though it’s what made me look. And maybe it’s what made the police look too, who knows?

In any case, it’s interesting. And I can’t help but notice the humor in a free speech case being brought up for a man named ‘Spiel.’

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