The Richlands Town Council failed to vote on a controversial zoning change that would allow tarot card readings to be added as a permitted use for town businesses Tuesday night.
Opponents and proponents alike crammed elbow to elbow in the town council meeting room, with droves of people overflowing into the hallway at Town Hall. Community members came to speak both in favor and in opposition to the proposed change that was perpetuated by a perceived ban on tarot readings inside Richlands businesses.
“I’m not the first person to ever tell fortunes in town,” said Mountain Magic owner Mark Mullins. “I’m just the first person wanting to do it legally, I guess.”
Mullins filed the application with the Richlands Planning Commission to add fortune telling as a permitted use for a business. Fortune telling is an umbrella term that includes tarot readings and other forms of divination.
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Despite the large number of supporters to show up at the hearing, Mullins was met by overwhelming opposition, the majority of whom cited biblical teachings as reasoning for a denial.
Some said they feared for their family’s safety if the town permitted the practice to go on inside the store. Others argued the practice would open up “demonic realms” which young children would be subjected to. Others said they feared a failure to prevent the change would go against them on judgment day.
“I don’t really want my children thinking that’s OK if they go in there and they get confused and don’t know what something is,” one woman said, adding, “If we open that up in this area and we’re letting people go into this, will their blood be required of our hands?”
Mullins pointed out at the start of the meeting that he currently legally read tarot cards on the sidewalk in front of his store and could legally perform a reading inside. The only thing he is prohibited from doing, he said, is voicing his interpretation.
“I can do it on the streets and it can be a sideshow, or I can do it inside the building where no one can see,” he said.
Members of the pagan community attempted to quell fears that the shop might corrupt the community.
“We’re not here to corrupt your children. We’re not here to turn anyone against the religion that they have,” one woman said. “We’re not here to try to convert you or to change you or to bring sin to Richlands. All we’re asking is for the same religious freedoms and the same religious rights as what you have.”
Supporters of the change expressed concern that a failure to approve the motion would violate Mullins’ first amendment rights. One supporter called it a “slippery slope” and warned that it should be avoided at all costs.
“My concern is more that this is plain and simply a first amendment right because they were not trying to make money from it, so it is simply a matter of their freedom of expression and freedom of speech,” one supporter argued. “If they had been charging for it, then it would be a zoning issue, but as it is, it’s an infringement on their personal rights and my concern there is that if you allow prohibition on one person’s rights—and it may seem great to the people on the other side—but once you open that door, you [open] the possibility of infringing on everybody’s rights.”
Some opponents urged the commission and council not to be intimidated by the possible threat of interference from the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The town has already been intimidated by the American Civil Liberties Union,” one woman said. “Our resources sometimes are limited and so they can make us cower sometimes, but in the boldness of the Holy Ghost, I bind their success.”
“One woman took prayer out of school and we sat back and done nothing, thinking it was going to be harmless,” a pastor warned. “I want the board and everyone else to think about that.”
On a non-religious point, the owner of the Richlands Record Exchange pointed to consumer appeal as reason for an approval.
“Every week, I’m approached for directions to their shop, so I do know that it is bringing in revenue,” he said. “As you’ve seen, there’s a young lady from Grundy who comes to this store. That’s out-of-towners coming here, spending money. And when they ask for directions to their store, they also ask, ‘what’s a good restraunt to go eat at?’ Again, while they’re here and they’re in town, they’re spending money on other businesses.”
A speaker who said she didn’t adhere to either religion told the commission and council that most of the arguments against the change were irrelevant
“The law is in place that there should be no law upon religion, so religious issues, as far as the church is preaching, is completely and totally irrelevant to your vote.”
Others disagreed, saying that the ordeal was not a matter of religious liberties, but rather of business, and so arguments for religious equality should not be considered.
“It’s not about what they do in their personal lives, it’s not about what they do at their home, it’s not about what they do in a place of worship. This is about a business.”
Ultimately, the planning commission agreed, stating that the matter was a business issue rather than a personal liberty issue and declined to recommend the change, prompting the council to decline to vote.
Richlands Mayor Jan White said the counsel hasn’t decided if they will take up the vote at the next meeting March 13, but as of now there are no plans to do so.
Mullins said he has been in contact with the ACLU and will proceed on their direction.
Jasmine Dent Franks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.