Md. high court: Fortunetelling is protected speech

Friday, June 11, 2010

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Fortunetelling for a fee is protected free speech, Maryland's highest court ruled yesterday.

The Maryland Court of Appeals reversed a Montgomery County court decision that had supported an ordinance banning fortune-telling for money.

Judge Clayton Greene Jr., who wrote the court's opinion, concluded that while fortunetellers may sometimes deceive their customers, it's not up to the court to pass judgment on the validity or value of their soothsaying.

“If Montgomery County is concerned that fortunetellers will engage in fraudulent conduct, the County can enforce fraud laws in the event that fraud occurs,” Greene wrote in the majority opinion, Nefredo v. Montgomery County.

Judge Glenn Harrell Jr. dissented, saying that the ordinance is limited in its application to fortunetelling for remuneration, and that the ordinance restricts no more speech than is necessary to prevent fraud.

The lawsuit was brought in 2008 by Nick Nefredo, who had been denied a license to open a fortunetelling business in Montgomery County.

The American Civil Liberties Union praised the majority opinion.

“While individual fortunetellers can be punished if they fraudulently exploit their customers, banning all fortunetelling is overbroad and unconstitutional,” said Ajmel Quereshi, an attorney with the ACLU of Maryland.

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