By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL- Town Council plans to strike Front Royal's ban on fortunetellers from the books and review how to regulate the practice.
The town's current rules came under fire in recent months by pagans who claim language in the code sections contain vague and offensive terms and is outright illegal. The sections include the terms "gypsies" and "magic arts." Town Council has heard from members of the pagan community as well as those who want to keep the ban in place out of fear that downtown could harbor "Satanism."
The Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled late last year that forbidding fortunetelling by a municipality violates the First Amendment's freedom of religion, Town Attorney Douglas Napier told council at a work session Monday. The same court ruled that a local government can regulate the practice of fortunetelling as a business. Virginia code already allows local governments to regulate fortunetelling.
"There are other court decisions around the country that says it cannot regulate it as a professional occupation because there's no commonly accepted standards that fortunetelling is any sort of profession," Napier said. "Rather, it's a personal service."
At the minimum, for council to make the town code conform to Virginia law it must remove section 110-17 that forbids fortunetelling and reduce the license fee from $400 to $300, Napier said. Some supporters of striking the section also say the fee is too high.
It may be more appropriate to tax fortunetelling under the town's business professional occupational license levy should council consider the practice a personal service, Napier said. The tax is on a business's gross receipts. The town would not charge the fee to fortunetellers if council taxes the business under that levy.
Councilman Eugene Tewalt and others agreed that the town needs to strike the ban sooner than later.
"I'm tired of listening to these people talk about it," Tewalt said.
Council may take more time to discuss how the town should regulate fortunetelling. Councilmen Daryl Funk and Bret Hrbek questioned whether the town could regulate the practitioners when they provide the service as spiritual advisors either for free or by donation. Napier said the town could not tax the practice in this case. Hrbek said if the town can't charge church leaders for providing spiritual advice then it probably shouldn't charge people who provide this service and aren't affiliated with established religions. Hrbek then questioned the town code that allows Front Royal to regulate fortunetelling as a business.
"I mean I think that these folks that have subscribed to these beliefs this is their religion," Hrbek said.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org