Outcome Hazy

Philadelphia has shut down more than a dozen fortune-tellers. The relevant law appears to be 71 Pa. C.S. § 7104:

A person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree if he pretends for gain or lucre, to tell fortunes or predict future events, by cards, tokens, the inspection of the head or hands of any person, or by the age of anyone, or by consulting the movements of the heavenly bodies, or in any other manner, or for gain or lucre, pretends to effect any purpose by spells, charms, necromancy, or incantation, or advises the taking or administering of what are commonly called love powders or potions, or prepares the same to be taken or administered, or publishes by card, circular, sign, newspaper or other means that he can predict future events, or for gain or lucre, pretends to enable anyone to get or to recover stolen property, or to tell where lost property is, or to stop bad luck, or to give good luck, or to put bad luck on a person or animal, or to stop or injure the business or health of a person or shorten his life, or to give success in business, enterprise, speculation, and games of chance, or to win the affection of a person, or to make one person marry another, or to induce a person to make or alter a will, or to tell where money or other property is hidden, or to tell where to dig for treasure, or to make a person to dispose of property in favor of another.

That’s kind of a dense bit of text, but I think the highlighted bit makes clear that it’s an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. As writen, the law prohibits me from writing a letter to the editor claiming that I can predict that the sun will come up tomorrow.

I’m curious what the backstory here is — given other more pressing issues in Philly, what made the cops suddenly go after these businesses?

It also seems to outlaw religion, as it criminalizes anyone who “pretends to effect any purpose by spells, charms, necromancy, or incantation” — at least any religion with a tradition of intercessory prayer.

It’s about time someone criminalized Who Moved My Cheese?.

I vaguely recall a similar crackdown on fortunetellers in New York City, based on a similar law.

As for the Pennsylvania statute, I especially like the part about “advises the taking or administering of what are commonly called love powders or potions.” Would that apply to a physician who prescribes, or a pharmacist who dispenses, Viagra?

The correct citation is actually 18 Pa.Cons.Stat. 7104. In addition to the religious issue Aislinn raised, there is a question of discriminatory enforcement and religious/ethnic bias against Roma people (so-called “Gypsies”) for whom fortune-telling is part of their culture and tradition, and possibly their religion, if I understand correctly.

Anyway, I believe I read that the police abandoned this “crackdown” within a day or two due to embarrassing publicity. A little thing about a record murder rate and so forth.