East Ridge spiritual counselor files suit against city
By Megan Boatwright
Eyewitness News Reporter
EAST RIDGE, TN (WRCB) -- A spiritual counselor in East Ridge says her free speech was violated. She was forced to shut down her booth at the East Ridge flea market, because it violates a city ban on fortune telling.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Candice Wohlfeil. They believe the East Ridge ordinance violates her right to free speech.
Candace Wohfeil calls herself a 'Spiritual Counselor'. She reads tarot cards and provides spiritual guidance for her clients.
"I have seen people in there," says vendor Pam Lewchuck. "I don't know exactly what it is she does or says to them in there."
Lewchuck has sold candles at the East Ridge flea market for 12 years. She remembers when Wohlfeil opened her booth 4 years ago.
"I know she's got the black curtains and incenses going in there," Lewchuck says.
Although Lewchuck says she doesn't agree with Wohlfeil's business. The vendor was surprised to learn her booth had been shut down.
"This ordinance is a very old ordinance," says East Ridge City Manager, Eddie Phillips. "It's been on the book for a number of years. I don't know how old it really is."
Old or not the city is standing by it. According to the ordinance itself: it's unlawful to conduct or solicit business in the trade of fortune teller, clairvoyant, hypnotist, spiritualist, palmist, phrenologist or other mystic endowned with supernatural powers.
"I haven't seen the lawsuit," says East Ridge City Manager, Eddie Phillips. "All I can really say is I can't comment on the ordinance or the suits itself."
In September city officials told Wohlfeil to shut down or pay a $500 fine everyday she operates.
According to the ACLU, Wohlfeil depends on the booth as her livelihood. More importantly she also claims the ordinance violates her First Amendment rights, so she's decided to fight back. The ACLU of Tennessee agreed to take on her case saying, "our client has the right to make predictions, whether for fun or profit, without the government discriminating against the content of her speech."
The ACLU also filed an injunction that would allow Wohlfeil to continue operating her booth until the court resolves the issue.
Wohlfeil declined to comment on camera Friday, but says she just wants to get back to her business of being a spiritual counselor. She says the government is not allowed to dictate what we can and can't say.