Foes of repeal on fortunetelling ban reflect on vote

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL — Town leaders who opposed ending a ban on fortunetelling had different reasons for voting against the repeal.

Council voted 4-3 to strike a local restriction on fortunetelling and practicing of the “magic arts.” Council took the action on the first reading of the motion to strike the town code section from the books after hearing from the public at an often-heated hearing Monday night.

Councilmen Hollis Tharpe, Thomas Sayre and Daryl Funk voted against the repeal. Tharpe said Wednesday that he voted against the motion with the knowledge that the measure requires a second reading to go into effect. Tharpe didn’t say whether or not he might vote the same way for the second reading.

“I’m being told by our town attorney that we need to repeal this ordinance,” Tharpe said. “This gives me the opportunity to listen to these folks, to get a copy of the [hearing] minutes, to go over the minutes, to consult with my town attorney to make sure, absolutely, positively sure that there’s absolutely no reason to undermine the Constitution of the United States and repeal this code.”

“I believe that this code was enacted in the early ’60s, when the Civil Rights movement was at its height,” Tharpe said. “People in that era thought differently about things that we wouldn’t even imagine, today, of even having a conversation [about].”

Tharpe said he contacted Town Attorney Douglas Napier, who recommended council repeal the regulation, since the meeting to ask him for further legal guidance on the matter.

The hearing drew a large crowd and council heard from speakers for and against the repeal.

“There was a lot of emotion, more so than fact,” Tharpe said.

Much of the debate over the repeal focused on whether or not fortunetelling and related spiritual practices fell under the protection of religious freedom or whether or not the town should regulate it as a business. Town code includes a separate section allowing for some regulation of the practice as allowed by state law.

“I view fortunetelling and tarot card reading, etc., as a business venture and not a religious practice,” Sayre said in a statement Wednesday.

During council’s discussion about the regulation at previous work sessions, Sayre requested that members refer the fortunetelling ban and the other code section that allows the town to regulate the practice as a business to the Planning Commission for its review and possible recommendations. Council has not yet decided how to move forward on the latter code section.

In making his recommendation to council, Napier has cited a decision by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals regarding a case out of Chesterfield County that involved a similar situation. Sayre said he agrees with the court’s ruling that Chesterfield County can require a fortuneteller to obtain a business license for a fee of $300. Sayre said Virginia law allows a jurisdiction to charge up to $1,000 but he supports the lower fee amount.

“The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the summary judgment in favor of the county,” Sayre said, adding that he “agrees with the Fourth Circuit.”

Sayre said the court ruled that the county could apply zoning regulations to fortunetelling that may require such practitioners obtain permits to operate in certain districts. Sayre said Front Royal Planning and Zoning Administrator Jeremy Camp has explained that the town could limit fortunetelling to certain districts or to restrict such activities from taking place within a certain distance of a school or day care center. Chesterfield County also can require that applicants submit to police background checks but Napier has told council it may not want to impose that requirement.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com