The ACLU of Virginia has filed a federal lawsuit against the Town of Richlands in Southwest Virginia for violating the free speech and religious freedom rights of a local business owner who is effectively banned from reading tarot cards as part of his business. ACLU-VA filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia on behalf of Mark Mullins, owner of Mountain Magic & Tarot Reading.

Mr. Mullins has been reading Tarot cards for approximately 30 years. For the past 10 years, he and his husband Jerome have used Tarot as a central part of their daily religious and spiritual practice, known as Hermeticism, a blending of several different religious traditions that dates to the second and third centuries A.D.

The Town of Richlands has used its business licensing and zoning scheme to effectively ban Mr. Mullins from opening a Tarot reading business anywhere within the town, in violation of his First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, and his rights under federal and state laws protecting religious freedom.

Since June of 2017, the town has repeatedly rejected Mr. Mullins’ attempts to obtain a business license, at first claiming that they needed to request an amendment to the Town’s zoning ordinance. When Mr. Mullins made such a request, the Town held a public hearing to consider the request in February 2018. At the raucous hearing, local residents and church leaders cited biblical scripture and warned that tarot reading is “evil” and “witchcraft” that would “open things up in this area to the demonic realm.”

Speakers also told officials they would suffer spiritual consequences if they allowed fortune telling in Richlands. The lawsuit contends the Town declined to amend the zoning ordinance to permit tarot reading based on townspeople’s hostility toward the practice of Tarot, discriminating against the content of his speech.

 

Attorney(s)

Vishal Agraharkar and Eden Heilman, ACLU of Virginia; Christine Poarch, Poarch Law

Date filed

April 4, 2019

Court

U.S. District Court, Western Division, Abingdon Division

Status

Filed

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