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I have seen quite a bit online recently about psychics and spirit mediums being derided.

This has grown through two media stories.  That of the newspaper the Daily Mail having to pay out £125,000 in damages to psychic Sally Morgan after libeling her as a fraud without providing proof to back their claims up, and that of the UK television watchdog, Ofcom, fining Psychic TV £12,500 after they made claims that predictions given were wholly accurate.

Certainly, the issue of psychic scam artists and fraudulent mediums must be taken seriously.  However, there is a bigotry at play here, and it is a bigotry backed up by legislation in the United Kingdom.

The public perception of psychics and spiritualist mediums broadly is one of belief or disbelief.  In the latter camp, they are disregarded as the vast majority, if not all of them are merely con artists out to take money from gullible individuals.  This has gone as high as government and on 26th May 2008 the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951 was repealed and replaced by the Consumers Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.  Under this legislation, all psychics/spiritualists, whether participating as part of a church or other organisation, or alone, and offering services to the public, must state that their services are “for entertainment purposes only”.

It may actually surprise many readers to learn that many in the spiritualist movement actually support this legislation, for the simple fact it does protect the public from fraudulent mediums/psychics, and in the long term protects the reputation of the genuine ones in the process.  I however have several problems with it, as do some spiritualists, as it smacks of religious bigotry.

The vast majority of those who do not believe in spiritualism take the view that it is lot of nonsense or “mumbo jumbo”.  Yet – and this will equally surprise many – spiritualism is a legitimately recognised religious faith in the UK and many base their beliefs in Christianity.  Why then does the public take the perception that supposedly channelling messages from the dead is unbelieveable, yet praying to an invisible entity is not?  Why think that psychic healing is rubbish, yet the wine and wafer turning into the physical blood and body of Christ is an acceptable notion?

Indeed, there is much in Judeo/Christian (and Islamic) belief which is a lot more fantastical than the beliefs of spirtiualists; from the magical rib-woman, through the big boat with every species on Earth on it, a talking snake / burning bush / donkey, feeding the multitude with a few bits of bread and fish, to the resurrection.  Put in that context, do the claims of spiritualists now seem so very outlandish?

Ah, but I hear the doubters cry, the psychics and spiritualists take money from people.  Ah, but I reply, so do churches, synagogues, mosques and temples, even if it is only in the form of donations.  And the more fundamental churches expect their members to commit to tithing – giving one tenth of their income to the church (this is also true of some synagogues and mosques).  The Church of Scotland, Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in the UK also ask the faithful to leave money in their wills to the church and “Gift Aid” it so as to avoid tax being paid on their donations.

The organised churches in the UK are multi-million pound industries. The Church of England actually states on its website that it takes £1000 million to run it every year, three quarters of which (£750 million) comes from donations from worshipers.  The Church of Scotland similarly took in £46,340,000 in 2012 and Roman Catholic churches in the UK are estimated to take in  at least £12 million annually.

Compared to those figures, the small amount which psychics / spiritualists earn and spiritualist churches take in must be a drop in the ocean.  And consider that spiritualist churches, unlike other places of worship, do not receive tax relief or exemption.  Many do not even have their own premises but have to hire halls for their services.

Consider also that many spiritualist mediums do not even charge for their services.  Some see it what they do as a “gift from God” and are afraid that if they charge for it, it will be taken from them.  I have no doubt that many of the doubters out there would like to think that all psychics and spiritualists shouldn’t charge. But then, the same could equally be said for ministers, priests, bishops, rabbis, imans, and clergy of all religions. The bottom line is even psychic and spiritualists have to keep a roof over their heads, eat and pay bills as well as anyone else.  And before anyone says that they could get a job, that is precisely what those who do not charge do – they have jobs and give readings in their own time.  Tell me, would you do your job then do another job at night and on the weekends for absolutely nothing?

I also have a problem with the “entertainment” aspect of the law.  If a believer attends a place of worship and feels their prayers have not been answered, do they expect their donation to be returned?  If they do not believe they are forgiven, would they then take their church/synagogue/mosque/temple to court for false representation?  About as likely as anyone going to see a movie which has been hyped up and getting their money back or being able to sue the cinema which screened it.  Yet under the law psychics and spiritualists are under an obligation to return money if the customer is not satisfied, and can indeed be sued.

You may ask why I, as an atheist, should even care about this.  I care simply because I believe in fairness and in human rights.  And spiritualism, a recognised religious faith, has been singled out for unfair treatment.  It has been singled out because it is “different”, non-conformist and steps away from the mainstream, despite the fact that it’s beliefs and claims are no less outlandish than any other faith, and in many cases far less outlandish.  I also care because I am more than a little informed on the subject, unlike the vast majority of the public who are largely uninformed about spiritualism.

Spiritualists do not castigate the LGBT community, do not oppress women, do not carry out the genital mutilation of either gender, do not carry out the ritual slaughter of animals, and as a faith it is not exclusive but wholly inclusive, welcoming all.  Spiritualism is a religion of peace, whose followers have never gone to war nor committed violence in the name of ‘their’ God. The same of many of the above cannot be said of the vast majority of other faiths which society accepts as “normal”.

The United Kingdom is supposedly a democratic society in which we all have rights, and this includes the right to freedom of religion.  The Human Rights Act 1998 Article 9 states;

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in a community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

Because their services are being seen in law as an entertainment, believers in spiritualism are not being accorded that right, completely in contravention of UK legislation.

I would therefore argue that the UK government should either remove the stipulation that spiritualists state their services are for entertainment only, or apply that to ALL faiths.  Let us see that phrase, “For entertainment pursposes only” outside of every church, synagogue, mosque, temple, and all other places of worship the length and breadth of the UK, or remove it altogether.

To do any less is nothing short of pure religious bigotry.