The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) filed a case in Federal Court in Chattanooga on Friday on behalf of an East Ridge woman "whose free speech rights were being violated because of a local city ordinance that prohibits fortune telling."
Candice Wohlfeil, spiritual counselor and East Ridge flea market vendor, began reading tarot cards at her booth in 2007. In 2008, she was informed by the city of East Ridge that she was in violation of a local ordinance which prohibits anyone from fortune-telling, the ACLU said.
When she questioned the constitutionality of the law, East Ridge City Attorney John Anderson said he would investigate and left her alone, it was stated.
Then, in September, a codes enforcer came to her booth and told her she was in violation of the ordinance and that she would be fined $500 per violation from that point forward. She had no choice but to close down her booth, the ACLU said.
Ms. Wohlfeil again contacted the city attorney. When she received no reply, she contacted the ACLU-TN.
“The First Amendment precludes the government from declaring which ideas are acceptable or not,” said ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney Donna Roberts, of Stites & Harbison, PLLC. “Our client has the right to make predictions, whether for fun or profit, without the government discriminating against the content of her speech.”
Ms. Wohlfeil also attended a city council meeting on Sept. 9 and explained why she believed the ordinance was unconstitutional. The council stated they would get back to her on the matter, but never did. ACLU-TN tried to contact the East Ridge city attorney, but received no reply. ACLU-TN is asking for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary and permanent injunction which would allow Ms. Wohlfeil to continue operating her booth at the flea market while the court permanently resolves the constitutional issues in the local fortune-telling ordinance.
“All I want to do is practice my trade of spiritual counselor,” Ms. Wohlfeil stated. “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.”
In addition to attorney Roberts, Ms. Wohlfeil is represented by Tricia Herzfeld, ACLU-TN staff attorney.
The case is Candice Wohlfeil v. The City of East Ridge.