Religion (for entertainment purposes only)

NEW consumer protection laws that came into force last week covering stuff like clairvoyancy and fortune-telling has set the internet buzzing with speculation as to whether religions ought to be covered by the new regulations.

According to a Times report:

Fortune-tellers and astrologists will be bracketed with double-glazing salesman under the new Consumer Protection Regulations. Fortune-tellers will have to tell customers that what they offer is ‘for entertainment only’ and not ‘experimentally proven’. This means that a fortune-teller who sets up a tent at a funfair will have to put up a disclaimer on a board outside.

Similar disclaimers will need to be posted on the websites of faith healers, spiritualists or mediums where appropriate, as well as on invoices and at the top of any printed terms and conditions.

Andy Millmore, a partner at the law firm Harbottle & Lewis in London, is quoted as saying:

What is significant is the sweeping nature of the regulations. They will effectively criminalise actions that might in the past have escaped legal censure, even if they may perhaps have been covered by industry voluntary codes. Personalised services may also come under scrutiny. A tarot pack reader, for instance, cannot just pick one of several templates – it would have to be a proper reading designed for that person.

Claims to secure good fortune, contact the dead or heal through the laying-on of hands are all services that will also have to carry disclaimers, other lawyers say.

Said one:

You could argue that this is no different from promises given by the Church of Eternal Life, which people pay for, in the sense that they feel obliged to give to the collection. It’s no more proven.

The Spiritualist Workers’ Association attacked the changes, saying on its website:

We do not believe we are conducting a scientific experiment. To have to stand up and say so is a denial of our beliefs. It is also sending out a message that we do not believe what we are saying and doing.

Lyn Guest de Swarte, a clairvoyant, said:

It’s like trying to regulate God.

Commenting on the new regulations, Times columnist and atheist Matthew Parris said:

Another example of careless jurisprudence this week: on Monday a new law came into force requiring fortune-tellers, clairvoyants, astrologers and mediums to stipulate explicitly that their services are for ‘entertainment only’.

Well, trades descriptions legislation is anciently established; but in the realms of the spirit, prophecy, invisible worlds, ghosts and human souls, it has generally been felt that the whole thing is too cloudy for law … By deeming in law – for that is what this measure does – that claims about worlds undreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio, are false, Parliament has taken a serious step in principle, even if the measure itself is trivial and most clairvoyants are only jokers anyway.

What, for instance, about the “faith” community? Perhaps it’s there in the legislative small print already. There will have to be an exception in law for ‘religions’. Whereupon clairvoyants will presumably rename themselves spiritualists. And spiritualists will presumably claim the status of a religion. Whereupon lawmakers will stipulate that a ‘religion’ has to centre around a deity. Whereupon Buddhism will cease to be a ‘religion’; and …

Here is a selection of amusing readers’ comments that followed the original Times report:

• Does this mean that placards should be placed at the entrance to all places of worship saying, ‘all who enter here don’t believe all you see and hear.

• I trust that every Bible and other such book will carry an appropriate disclaimer regarding the reliability of its content and promises. And that preachers will similarly preface every sermon with ‘for entertainment only’.

• Coming soon to a church near you….. A huge great ‘not experimentally proven’sign. If you’re going to discriminate against one form of spiritual activity (be it questionable or not) at least discriminate against them all.

• Will this stop religions obtaining money from the Government, particularly in education, on the basis of their predictions of life after death, the claimed existence of God and the validity of their doctrine which they may believe, but cannot prove?

• Does this mean that people who promise salvation or 42 virgins if you do what they tell you can be done under the new regulations ? This looks like a good way to get rid of religions

• We should also get Trading Standards to target religious establishments. After all they too invoke the supernatural and superstition, in order to give their customers some sort of reassurance about the future. Despite holding huge financial assets they also continually ask the public for money.

• The difference is that religion doesn’t charge you for the service they provide, any money they receive is purely voluntary. Astrologers, psychic healers, mediums etc charge you for a service that is claimed to do a lot of things that are scientifically unproven. I agree with the change.

• Religion not charging? Islam makes a big deal about the faithful paying the “religious tax” and even imposes punitive taxes on non-muslims to permit them to follow their own faith. Look up zakat and jizyah. These are not voluntary, though perhaps they cannot be enforced in the courts here.

• Hmm, religion doesn’t charge … money from the government, collections at the church/mosque/synagogue/temple, purchase of the Qu’ran, Bible, Torah, Vedas, etc, ‘donations’ to the church to obtain that date for your special day. We all pay for religion even if it’s just through taxes. It’s a farce.

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