Column Date 2007-05-26

Should we outlaw fortune tellers? (And will they see it coming?)

There are some peculiar things happening down in Louisiana, and I’m afraid it could spread to the rest of the country.

In Livingston Parish, right outside of Baton Rouge, the council has just made it illegal to predict the future of money.

That’s right – if you tell a citizen of Livingston that the U.S. dollar is going up, say, or the Euro is going down, you could wind up with a $500 fine and a year in jail.

Sounds harmless enough, doesn’t it? I mean, how many people in Livingston Parish, LA, go around predicting the future of money?

But they didn’t stop there: the Livingston ordinance also covers fortune-tellers, diviners of tea leaves, tarot card readers and psychics. In short, anybody who claims to predict the future.

I don’t think the council has really thought this through, and I’m afraid this will have a serious impact on the good people of Livingston.

For instance, who will tell them if a new romance is about to enter their lives?

How will they find out which lottery numbers to pick next week?

And who will they turn to when they need to speak to long-dead relatives?

Of course, I understand why Livingston Parish is doing this: with the best of intentions, the council is trying to protect the more gullible of their citizens from con artists and fraud.

But don’t we have the freedom in this country to make complete fools of ourselves? (A quick look at Washington, DC will answer that question.)

This ordinance also raises some interesting questions:

Will the owners of Chinese restaurants be fined $500 if they offer fortune cookies?

When a stockbroker says “I think this energy stock will hit $40 this year,” will he be arrested? (Maybe he should be, of course, but that’s a whole different issue.)

And if Al Gore comes to town and predicts the oceans will rise ten feet by 2050, I guess it’s right into the slammer with him.

Luckily, there’s a positive side to all this:

For one thing, people in Livingston won’t have to put up with weather forecasters any more. (Can you be sent to jail even if your predictions are wildly wrong, day after day?)

They can kiss their daily horoscopes goodbye, too. (It’s a hard habit to break, I know, but there are clinics to help you return to reality.)

And any Livingston Parish preacher who predicts that you’ll go straight to hell for your drinking and carousing will obviously face a large fine.

After the ordinance was passed, Council President Buddy Mincey said he wanted the council’s attorney to review it. If it turns out to be illegal, of course, they’ll have to repeal it and pass a new ordinance. (I guess that’s how things work when you’re in a hurry to protect your citizenry – shoot first, aim later.)

By the way, there are apparently no fortune tellers or psychics living in Livingston Parish right now.

Do you think they knew something?

©2007 Peter Tannen