Today the state of New York is sponsoring a psychic festival at the Empire State Plaza, the government-owned and operated underground shopping and services center beneath the state capitol. The festival includes booths devoted to fortune-telling, communication with the dead, energy manipulation, and crystal and other forms of paranormal healing and medicine.
Practitioners of the psychic arts are charging customers for their services from a nominal fee up to more expensive "readings" and "healings", all under the auspices of the New York State Office of General Services (OGS), who organized and managed the psychic fair.
Under New York law, psychic practitioners are required to display a disclaimer that services such as fortune telling and communication with the dead are "for entertainment purposes only." I asked a representative of the OGS where the disclaimer was posted. According to the OGS, the disclaimer was prominently displayed on the A-frame signs promoting the event in the hallways leading up to the Plaza but were not required for individual practitioners, not even those who made specific claims that they could communicate with specific dead people or could cure disease with crystals or Eastern religious practices. I walked the length and breadth of the festival site and was unable to find a disclaimer, though during my visit some event signs were still being put up.
I am not an absolutist about psychic fairs. As long as it is clear that fortune-tellers are plying their trade for fun and entertainment, I don't have a problem with carnival-style mentalism. What I do have a problem with is people who claim with all seriousness that they have specific messages from the loved dead. And what I find unconscionable is the State of New York lending its imprimatur to frauds and hucksters and the legitimately deluded who promise that for a small fee crystals, energy manipulation, and other quackery will cure any and all diseases.
I do not want my tax money going to support these hucksters, nor do I want the state offering its good offices to practitioners of Eastern religious mysticism masquerading as medicine when it certainly would never allow a similar violation of the separation of church and state if we called this by its Christian name: faith healing.
"Its no worse than religion," an OGS staffer told me this morning in explaining why the state was running a psychic festival. I don't think that's the standard we ought to be using in deciding what the state should sponsor--especially when the state is not only promoting this nonsense, but allowing its practitioners to charge money for imaginary services in publicly owned and operated buildings.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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