The ACLU of Virginia 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. The case settled at the end of 2019, resulting in the Town of Richlands amending the zoning ordinance to allow for fortune telling and Tarot reading in the Town of Richlands, granting Mr. Mullins a license and zoning permit that allow him to read Tarot as a part of his business, and agreeing to not place additional fees or restrictions on operating or advertising his business.
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 had 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 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 contended 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.
The settlement is a win for Mr. Mullins and for the First Amendment. A federal court will retain jurisdiction to enforce the agreement in the event the town backpedals on its promises.