LONDON (Reuters) - Fortune-tellers, mediums and spiritual healers marched on the home of the British prime minister at Downing Street on Friday to protest against new laws they fear will lead to them being "persecuted and prosecuted".
Organizers say that replacing the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951 with new consumer protection rules will remove key legal protection for "genuine" mediums.
They think skeptics might bring malicious prosecutions to force spiritualists to prove in court that they can heal people, see into the future or talk to the dead.
Psychics also fear they will have to give disclaimers describing their services as entertainment or as scientific experiments with unpredictable results.
"If I'm giving a healing to someone, I don't want to have to stand there and say I don't believe in what I'm doing," said Carole McEntee-Taylor, a healer who co-founded the Spiritual Workers Association.
The group delivered a petition with 5,000 names to the prime minister's office, although Gordon Brown is away in the United States.
With the changes expected to come into force next month, spiritualists have faced a barrage of headlines gleefully suggesting that they should have seen it coming.
But many don't see the funny side. They say the new rules will shift the responsibility of proving they are not frauds from prosecutors and onto them.
"By repealing the Act, the onus will go round the other way and we will have to prove we are genuine," McEntee-Taylor told Reuters. "No other religion has to do that."
The government said the new regulations form part of a European Union directive that is meant to harmonize unfair trading laws across the EU. It will introduce a ban on traders "treating consumers unfairly".
The British Humanist Association, a charity which campaigns against religion and supernatural beliefs, said stricter regulations were overdue because the current laws don't work.
"It is misleading for spiritualists to claim that, as ‘religious' practitioners they should not be regulated under consumer laws," said Chief Executive Hanne Stinson.
"The psychic industry is huge and lucrative and it exploits some very vulnerable, and some very gullible, people with claims for which there is no scientific evidence."
Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato