Selma has lifted its unconstitutional ban on fortune tellers. The city also is taking steps to regulate how fortune telling businesses operate.
The Selma City Council accomplished both things at an emotion-packed meeting Monday night. A standing-room-only crowd listened as speakers voiced two different views of fortune telling.
A majority of speakers opposed it on religious grounds. “These fortune telling people are not of God,” said Nancy Flores, one of 11 opposition speakers.
She said American liberty could be at stake and she urged the council to defend “one nation under God” — as expressed in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Bakersfield attorney Dennis Beaver said the same U.S. Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion for Christians also guarantees freedom of speech and separation of church and state.
“There is a degree of hysteria and fear that’s unwarranted,” Beaver said of the fortune telling issue.
Beaver is volunteering to help Stephanie Davis, who operates a palm reading business in a rural area near Selma. Davis took steps earlier this year to move her business into Selma.
At that time, it came to light that the city in 1979 had adopted an ordinance that banned fortune telling, including palm reading.
In 1985, that ordinance became unconstitutional because of a California Supreme Court ruling, according to City Attorney Neal Costanzo. The court said a ban on fortune telling was a restriction on free speech.
Those events led to the city council meeting on Monday.
Several city officials said the council had no choice but to dump the 1979 ban. Officials also said the city’s next best option was to develop new regulations on fortune telling businesses.
In the end, that’s what the city council voted to do.
Council Member Dennis Lujan cast the only “no” vote. Among other things, he wanted the council to take more time on the regulations.
Lujan urged Davis to reconsider relocating her business into Selma. Davis did not attend the meeting because of a death in her family, but her husband, Steve, was there.
Lujan told him pointedly: “You’re not wanted here — period.”
Steve Davis disagreed and said his wife still plans to open in Selma. He urged opponents not to lump his wife with other fortune tellers. “Just give us a chance. We’re not like others,” he said.
Stephanie Davis, 29, has said that she was born with the ability to read palms.
Had the council failed to act Monday, fortune telling businesses could have opened with no restrictions on location, hours and other operational issues, officials said.
The city’s new regulations include limiting fortune tellers to areas of the city zoned for commercial activity.
In addition, the city will do a criminal background check on fortune tellers seeking a city business license. Applicants could be disqualified by having a criminal record or having committed civil fraud.
The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.