The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of an East Ridge psychic who claims a city ordinance banning all for-profit fortune telling violates her right to free speech.
"All I want to do is practice my trade of spiritual counselor," Candice Wohlfeil, a tarot card reader who offered fortunes at the East Ridge Flea Market, said in a statement. "The government is not allowed to dictate what I can and can't say and I look forward to this being resolved so that I can get back to helping people."
The lawsuit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, and Curtis Collier, chief judge of the court, issued an injunction to halt enforcement of the law immediately, court filings show. Wohlfeil can go back to predicting the future, but now she wants the court to strike down the ordinance for good.
East Ridge Mayor Mike Steele said he thought Wohlfeil and the city were working toward a solution to her complaints and was surprised by Friday's legal action.
"She came before the [city] council and asked us to look at the ordinance," Steele said. "I hoped we could come to some sort of reasonable solution."
Wohlfeil said she spoke at the Sept. 9 council meeting and explained why she believed the ordinance was unconstitutional. She said she never heard back from the city and contacted the ACLU for help.
"The First Amendment precludes the government from declaring which ideas are acceptable or not," said ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney Donna Roberts, of Stites and Harbison, a Nashville law firm. "Our client has the right to make predictions, whether for fun or profit, without the government discriminating against the content of her speech."
Roberts filed a similar suit in Dickson, Tenn., in 2003. That suit was successful and the city's law was struck down.
It's not clear when East Ridge passed the ordinance, but in 1996 the city hosted a national convention of psychics and tarot card readers. For the last couple years, the city has been on a quest to shed businesses it deems unsavory, including check-cashing operations, pawn shops and used-car lots.