ACLU sues Southwest Virginia town on behalf of tarot card reader

Town used business licensing, zoning scheme to effectively ban tarot business

Credit: ACLU of Virginia
Credit: ACLU of Virginia

RICHLANDS, Va. – A Tazewell County town is being sued by the ACLU of Virginia on suspicion of violating the free speech and religious freedom rights of a local resident who is banned from reading tarot cards as part of his business.

The suit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, is on behalf of Mark Mullins against the town of Richlands.

Mullins, the owner Mountain Magic Tarot and Reading Shop, has been reading tarot cards for approximately 30 years, according to the ACLU. 


For the past decade, he and his husband, Jerome, have used tarot as a central part of their daily religious and spiritual practice, known as Hermeticism, a blending of several different religious traditions that dates to the second and third centuries AD. 

The town used its business licensing and zoning scheme to effectively ban Mullins from opening a tarot reading business anywhere within Richlands, in violation of his First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion and his rights under federal and state laws protecting religious freedom, according to the lawsuit.

Beginning in June 2017, the town repeatedly rejected Mullins’ attempts to obtain a business license, at first claiming he needed to request an amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance.

When Mullins made such a request, the town held a raucous public hearing in February 2018.

At the hearing, local residents and church leaders cited biblical scripture and warned that tarot reading is “evil” and “witchcraft” that would “open things up in this area to the demonic realm.”

Speakers also told officials they would suffer spiritual consequences if they allowed fortune-telling in Richlands. The lawsuit contends the town declined to amend the zoning ordinance to permit tarot reading based on townspeople’s hostility toward the practice of tarot, discriminating against the content of Mullins’ speech and attempting to impose prior restraint.

Defendants in the lawsuit are the Town of Richlands, Town Manager Timothy Taylor, the current and former chiefs of police and the chair of the town planning commission.

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