ST. PETERSBURG — It's an issue lifted from Medieval Europe: Should the government treat soothsayers and ordained ministers differently?
The City Council votes today to remove an antiquated measure from its books that requires five "good moral character" references from soothsayers, fortune tellers, palmists, astrologers and mental healers seeking a business permit.
But the proposed streamlined application process has done little to silence critics who say the city has no business regulating those people in the first place.
Their concern: The decades-old permitting process exempts ordained ministers.
The Rev. Bruce Wright has asked local activists to rally at City Hall today to protest.
"It's a violation of free speech and freedom of religion," he said. "It's a constitutional issue."
City officials said they are not intentionally singling out anyone.
The character-reference requirement has been in place since at least the 1950s to protect residents from criminals, said Mark Winn, the city's chief assistant attorney.
Roughly 32 people applied for fortune-telling permits last year.
Under the proposed ordinance change, fortune tellers and other nontraditional spiritual gurus would still need to provide their fingerprints and pay a $44 fee. Applicants can be denied if they are sexual predators, on parole, have been convicted of a felony within five years or been convicted of a misdemeanor within three years.
But in a modern age where technology makes it easy for anyone to become an ordained minister on the Web, critics argue, aren't ministers just as potentially felonious?
Charles Eminizer, 68, said he is an ordained minister and founder of the Intergalactic Life Church. He also goes by "the People Whisperer."
"I consider myself a spiritual adviser, although I book myself as a party physic entertainer," he said.
The city should require background checks on all faith leaders or none, he said.
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.