Several Cities Consider Dropping Bans on Soothsayers : Fortune-Tellers Predict a Brighter Future

Times Staff Writer

When Temple City psychic healer Helen Lee applied for a business license at City Hall a few weeks ago, a clerk told her the city did not allow that kind of establishment.

The clerk probably should have consulted a soothsayer, however, because Temple City now has a fortune-telling business in its future--its very near future.

Lee challenged the clerk, who told the city attorney, who advised the City Council that its longstanding ordinance banning fortune-telling businesses was a legal instrument of the past and was not likely to stand up in court. On June 18, the council passed a measure immediately lifting its ban.

Lee said she and her sister, Aggie, plan to open Madame Helen, Psychic Palm and Tarot Card Reader, by the end of the month.

Temple City is one of several San Gabriel Valley cities confronted with the issue in the aftermath of several federal court injunctions against banning fortune-telling businesses. A four-year legal battle over such a ban by Azusa has worked its way up to the state Supreme Court.

Earlier this year, San Gabriel dropped its ban against fortune-telling businesses. Officials in Azusa, Arcadia, Monrovia, Rosemead, West Covina and Pomona said they are waiting for the high court to rule on the Azusa case before they take action. A number of cities, including Pasadena and El Monte, have permitted fortune-telling for some time.

The suit against Azusa was filed in Pasadena Superior Court in 1981 by Fatima Stevens, proprietor of the short-lived Psychic Science Church of Truth Inc., who alleged that Azusa's ban violated her constitutional right to freedom of religion.

The Superior Court ruled in favor of the city and Stevens subsequently appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which overturned the lower court's ruling on the basis that the ban violated free speech guarantees, Azusa City Atty. Peter Thorson said. Azusa then appealed to the state Supreme Court, where a decision is pending.

Thorson said he believes Azusa's ban will be upheld. "It's really a consumer-protection ordinance," he said. "What we're saying is you can't predict the future with any accuracy and yet you're charging money for service you can't perform."

But officials in other cities are not so sure. "It (fortune-telling for money) had been a prohibited activity in Temple City, and I don't think the courts are going in a direction where we could sustain that position in terms of a total prohibition," said Charles Martin, city attorney for Temple City.

Bob Clute, San Gabriel city manager, said that even though cities historically have regarded fortune-telling businesses as "somewhat of a racket," lawyers for his city "looked into their crystal ball" and recommended ending the ban.

"I think probably the handwriting is on the wall," Clute said. "The City Council felt that rather than litigate it, they would allow it." Since lifting its ban, San Gabriel has seen the debut of one fortune-telling business, Clute said.

Lee takes exception to the view that those involved in fortune-telling and related fields are engaged in an unsavory business. "We're not those kind of people," said Lee, who is 23 and claims to have practiced her craft for 10 years. "My results are guaranteed. I wouldn't guarantee my results if I was a hit-and-run or whatever you want to call them. I'm a psychic healer. It's not one of those gimmicks. It's a gift from God."

Temple City's new ordinance applies to those who engage in fortune-telling as a business and includes--among other things--astrology, phrenology, mesmerism, clairvoyance, crystal gazing, spirit photography, palmistry, numerology, seance, soothsaying, psychic healing, divination, prophecy, augury and materialization.

The city charges one-year permit fees ranging from $100 to $250 and applicants must pass a security check by the Sheriff's Department and obtain council approval before a business license will be granted.

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