April 10, 2019 at 9:08 am EDT | by James Wellemeyer
Gay tarot card reader claims Va. town violated First Amendment rights
Mark Mullins, left, is suing officials in Richlands, Va., on grounds they violated his First Amendment rights when they allegedly used zoning and business license regulations to effectively ban him from reading tarot cards in the town. (Photo courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia)

  

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia is suing the town of Richlands on behalf of a gay man who claims his First Amendment rights have been violated.

Mullins, the owner Mountain Magic and Tarot Reading, alleges in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia that Richlands officials breached his free speech and religious freedom rights by effectively preventing him from opening a tarot reading business in the town.

“This is a classic case of a town violating someone’s First Amendment rights of speech and religious liberties,” Vishal Agraharkar, the senior ACLU of Virginia staff attorney working on the case, told the Washington Blade in a phone interview on April 8.

According to the ACLU of Virginia, reading tarot cards is an important aspect of Hermeticism, a religious and spiritual tradition Mullins and his husband Jerome practice every day.

The two men have used tarot cards for the past decade, and Mullins himself has been reading the cards for 30 years.

“Tarot is our Bible,” Mullins told the ACLU of Virginia. “It means the world to me to be able to share my practice with others.”

“Mullins wants to be able to share his tarot practice with others seeking spiritual guidance and advice on how to live their lives, just as some members of other major religions seek to share their texts for such guidance,” said Agraharkar in the ACLU of Virginia press release.

The lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Virginia says the town rejected Mullins’ requests for a business license in June 2017 and told him he must request an amendment to Richlands’ zoning ordinance.

When Mullins made the request, the town held a public hearing in February 2018 to review it. The ACLU of Virginia describes the hearing as “raucous” and says residents called tarot readings “witchcraft” that would “open things up in this area to the demonic realm.”

Following the hearing, the town decided not to amend the zoning ordinance, stopping Mullins from opening his business.

The lawsuit claims the town chose not to amend the ordinance due to the residents’ opposition to the practice of tarot reading. This decision, the ACLU of Virginia says, violates Mullins’ right to free speech.

The lawsuit defendants include the town of Richlands; Town Manager Timothy Taylor, the chair of the town planning commission, and the current and former chiefs of police.

Agraharkar believes the ACLU of Virginia has put together a strong case for Mullins. “We’re hoping that this will be a quick resolution. We think that the law is on our side in this case,” he said.

Courts have sided with those in Mullins’ position in previous cases similar to this one.

“What the Supreme Court is clear about is that this is protected speech,” Agraharkar said. “A town cannot use its licensing and zoning authority to effectively ban speech like this.”

A scheduling order for the recently submitted case is yet to be issued, making the timeline of Mullins’ court battle unclear. The Blade has reached out to Richlands officials for comment.

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