Los Angeles moves to ban astrology

Astrologers have always been a problem for the public, the law, science and religion. With no regulatory body to control their educational standard and behavior it’s impossible to know who’s an honest scientific astrologer and who’s a charlatan. And at different times the charlatans and fortune-tellers have brought the subject into massive disrepute. In the 17th-century the French Academy of Science placed a ban on astrology and in England laws were passed that classified astrologers as rogues and fortune-tellers. So in 1942 when the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors moved to ban astrology it was following precedent. At the time Los Angeles was an astrology Mecca. It was the home of scientific astrology and the driving force behind the astrology revival that was sweeping America, but the frauds, charlatans and fortune-tellers were doing spectacular damage. So the Los Angeles City Council took drastic steps to protect the public. It prepared an ordinance for the County Board of Supervisors, which was framed as a model ordinance to be passed in Los Angles and then recommended to other cities throughout America. It stated:

‘An ordinance prohibiting fortune-telling and similar practices for compensation or donation

Section 1: Every person who carries on, practices or professes to practice the business or art of astrology, phrenology life-reading, fortune-telling, cartomancy, clairvoyance, clairaudience, crystal-gazing, hypnotism, mediumship, oriental mysteries, spirit photography, spirit writing, spirit voices, spirit materialization, etherealization, numerology, physiognomy, psychometry, seership, prophesy, augury, divination, magic or necromancy, or other similar art or business and demands or receives directly or indirectly a fee or reward, or who accepts any donation for the exercise or exhibition of his art therein, or who gives an exhibition thereof at any place where an admission fee, donation, or reward is charged or receives, directly or indirectly, or who teaches or gives instruction in any such art or business and demands or receives, directly or indirectly, a fee or reward, or who accepts any donation for such teaching or instruction is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Section 2: Every person who, by means of occult or psychic powers, faculties or forces, spirits, cards, talismans, charms, potions, magnetism or magnetized articles or substances, oriental mysteries or any craft or art described in section one of this ordinance, or similar art or craft, purports to or does, find or restore lost or stolen property, locate oil wells, gold or silver or other ore, metal, or natural product, restore lost love or friendship or affection, unite or procure lovers, husbands, wives, lost relatives or friends, or by such means gives any counseling or advice whatsoever, and who records or receives directly or indirectly a fee or reward or who accepts any donation therefore, is guilty of a misdemeanor.’

A similar bill – House Bill 456 – had already been passed by a large majority in Missouri and was currently before the Senate. It stated:

‘An Act to suppress and making it a misdemeanor to pursue in the State of Missouri, the avocation or profession of a fortuneteller, clairvoyant, spirit medium, necromancer, astrologist, palmist, prophet and like craft….’

The stakes were high for the astrologers. If the ordinance prohibiting the teaching and practice of astrology went into effect in Los Angeles those teaching and practicing astrology would have to pay $30.00 a month for a license and provide the sheriff with three profile and three full face photographs and two sets of fingerprints. There’s no doubt the public need protecting from the frauds and charlatans in any profession but a total ban on all astrologers, and their strict regulation, just because some behave badly, was a drastic situation and the astrologers in California only had one option – to fight back.

On January 2, 1943 the leading astrologers from all the astrological organizations held a meeting to organize their opposition to the Bill. Those leading the attack included:

Lenora Conwell representing the West Coast Convention of Scientific Astrologers

Edna L Scott representing the American Federation of Scientific Astrologers

Elbert Benjamine representing the Church of Light

Harriet K Banes representing the First College and Temple of Astrology

Earnest Mathieson representing The Church of the Cosmic Ray

Edna L Fohl representing the Hollywood School of Astrology and

Llewellyn George representing all Independent Astrologers

And on January 8, when the anti-fortune-telling ordinance was brought before the Council of the City of Los Angeles for adoption, quick action by the Executive Committee to Secure Legal Justice for Astrology prevented its immediate passage. It was then turned over to the city attorney for study, by the Council before final action.

The West Coast Astrologers then formed a Committee of Astrological Legislation. They saw the solution to the problem differently. The difficulties attracted by incompetent astrologers could not be solved by the restriction of the competent, but by the elimination of the incompetent. So they prepared Bill No. 1943 – Astrological Law – and at a mass meeting of astrologers it was unanimously adopted and on January 29, 2943 it was presented to the legislature of the State of California at Sacramento by Assemblyman Everett G. Burkhalter, of the 40th Assembly District (North Hollywood).

But Bill No. 1943 had powerful opposition. The Griffith Observatory and the California Institute of Technology both wrote letters to each member of the Ways and Means Committee to not recommend the bill. And one religious organization sent its emissary to Sacramento to instruct all legislators belonging to it to vote against the bill. In May 1943 it was withdrawn – not defeated – due to the inability of the astrologers to raise the necessary cash in advance to establish and maintain the State Board of Examiners.

And on June 19, 1944 the Los Angeles City Council, after considering all the issues involved, voted down the proposed drastic fortune-telling ordinance. The astrologers won. But the problem that motivated the ban in the first place has never been resolved. The attempts by both the law enforcement officers and astrologers in 1943 to legislate astrology failed. And the need to have the public protected from the frauds, charlatans and fortune-tellers continues to be an important astrological and social issue.

Related articles in: Chapters in Astrology’s History