Pennsylvania Police ‘Threaten to Arrest’ Metaphysical Shop Owner for Reading Tarot Cards
Beck Lawrence reads tarot cards, but they likely didn't foresee a bitter battle with their local police department when they opened their metaphysical shop earlier this year.
Lawrence, a practicing Pagan who uses they/them pronouns, opened Serpent's Key Shop and Sanctuary, their witchcraft and apothecary store, in Hanover, Pa., in early 2023.
At the shop, Lawrence sells crystals, incense, candles, alternative artwork and spiritual books, among other "witchy wares."
They also perform private tarot reading sessions for clients, which are priced up to $100 per reading, according to Fox 43. A disclaimer in the shop advises customers that the "readings are for entertainment purposes only."
However, Lawrence says that thanks to an outlandish local law dating all the way back to the 1860s, they were "threatened" by local police who warned them that reading tarot, i.e. "fortune telling," is illegal in Pennsylvania and could lead to an arrest.
Now, Lawrence is at the center of what social media has dubbed the "Hanover Witch Hunt."
According to Fox 43, the shop owner says they were confronted by Hanover Borough Police Chief Chad Martin back in October, who told the store owner "if he did get further reports [about Lawrence's shop] or if he felt there was any need to investigate, he would be obligated to under this law..."
Lawrence claims that during the visit Martin and another officer denied them their "constitutional right to record the encounter and threatened me with criminal penalties — including $2,500 in fines and up to a year in jail — if I perform tarot card readings in my establishment."
In response to "recent social media attention" surrounding Lawrence's shop and the fortune telling law, the Hanover Police Department issued a statement on Facebook denying Lawrence's interpretation of their conversation.
"There was never an investigation, nor was there any threat of arrest in this matter. With that being said, if a complaint was made against someone for engaging in acts qualifying as 'fortune telling' in the Borough of Hanover; this department would be obligated to conduct an investigation. Finally, regarding this issue, the only departmental time utilized was mine in an effort to educate someone and to prevent a future complaint or issue," Martin wrote.
On TikTok, where Lawrence has been chronicling their experience with the Hanover Police Department and has gone viral with millions of views, the shop owner responded that they weren't "sure how I was supposed to interpret two grown men in my shop telling me that I can't read tarot cards cause they might arrest me."
Lawrence is now suing the police department.
They have also launched a petition to "challenge the constitutionality of Pennsylvania Title 18, Section 7104" — the 160-year-old law which prohibits "fortune telling" in the state of Pennsylvania; a law which Lawrence claims contradicts their freedom of speech and religion.
"The absurdity and impropriety of attempting to enforce the Fortune Telling Law is reinforced by the fact that, excepting your actions here, this Law is generally unenforced and ignored in the Commonwealth. The unprompted threats against me have caused significant undue stress and chilled my constitutional rights to freedom of speech and economic liberty," Lawrence's Change.org petition reads.
Lawrence also argues the law is "unconstitutionally vague, ambiguous, and arbitrary, particularly as to what constitutes 'fortune telling,'" as Pennsylvania "permits businesses to make predictions about this Sunday’s football score and permits individuals to give money to the prediction-providers in the form of a 'bet.'"
According to their petition, which has over 7,700 signatures as of publishing, "this incident is not just about me; it's about every citizen's right to freedom of speech and religion as protected under the First Amendment."
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