Fortune-telling is Still Illegal in New York State

August 9th, 2011 § 2 comments

Statue of Liberty and NYC skyline

Just a reminder to readers in New York State, fortune telling is still officially illegal there. And that goes for New York City as well as the rest of the state.

Of course you wouldn’t know it by the number of psychic shops in town, but according to an article in the New York Times last week, as well as the penal code itself, it’s true.

The Class B misdemeanor is listed as No.165.35 and reads as follows,

A person is guilty of fortune telling when, for a fee or compensation which he directly or indirectly solicits or receives, he claims or pretends to tell fortunes, or holds himself out as being able, by claimed or pretended use of occult powers, to answer questions or give advice on personal matters or to exorcise, influence or affect evil spirits or curses; except that this section does not apply to a person who engages in the afore described conduct as part of a show or exhibition solely for the purpose of entertainment or amusement.

The law was added to the code in 1967. It’s been around for a while, but obviously isn’t enforced too often. But just last month it was. Sylvia Mitchell of Manhattan was charged with illegal fortune telling.

It’s important to note that she was also charged with grand larceny for allegedly defrauding people of thousands of dollars by claiming to remove ‘blockages’ of some sort. If the charges are true, I find her actions reprehensible.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now, if someone tells you that you have a spiritual block or curse that they can remove for a fee, they’re very likely con artists. Don’t give them your money.

But this other business of being charged with something as broad as ‘fortune-telling’ is something legitimate readers should pay attention to. Even those who just read cards and make no claims to spiritual connections or occult powers.

The obvious way around the law is to do what people have been doing for years. They simply add the disclaimer ‘for entertainment and amusement purposes only’ to all marketing materials and websites, whether they mean it or not.

As it stands the law, and its loophole, seem to be a bit of a sham. Some readers are definitely entertaining, and even amusing, but that’s not why most people go to get readings. And everyone knows it.

And yet, if a reader admits that most, if not all their readings are meant to be serious, they could be arrested. It’s crazy.

Can’t we just use the laws we already have against fraud to protect people from scammers, whether their scam involves pretending to be a fortune-teller, priest, doctor, investment mogul, or any number of different occupations.

And for the people who believe that they can get or give advice from cards, or crystals or relatives passed on, let them, without fear that they’re engaged in a crime.

Being paid for a psychic or card reading should not be illegal. The Maryland High Court said it well in their decision to repeal a fortune-telling ban in Montgomery County, Maryland in 2010,

Fortunetelling may be pure entertainment, it may give individuals some insight into the future, or it may be hokum. People who purchase fortunetelling services may or may not believe in its value. Fortunetellers may sometimes deceive their customers. We need not, however, pass judgment on the validity or value of the speech that fortunetelling entails. If Montgomery County is concerned that fortunetellers will engage in fraudulent conduct, the County can enforce fraud laws in the event that fraud occurs.

The County need not, and must not, enforce a law that unduly burdens protected speech to accomplish its goal. Such a law will curtail and have a chilling effect on constitutionally protected speech.

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