Put it in Ink: First Amendment Protects Tattoos

Thursday, Sep 9, 2010  |  Updated 3:30 PM PDT
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A federal appeals court ruled in San Francisco that  tattooing is a form of free speech.
     
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals  overturned a ban on tattoo parlors by the City of Hermosa Beach in Los  Angeles County.
     
Judge Jay Bybee wrote that tattooing is a "unique and important  method of expression," protected by the constitutional First Amendment right  of free speech.

Hermosa Beach, with a population of about 19,000, had a ban on any  type of tattoo parlor. City officials cited health and safety concerns as the  reason.

The measure was challenged in a federal civil rights lawsuit in  2007 by Johnny Anderson, a tattooist who had a shop in city of Los Angeles  and wanted to set up a parlor in Hermosa Beach.

He said in a court filing, "The tattoo designs that are applied by  me are individual and unique creative works of visual art, designed by me in  collaboration with the person who is to receive the tattoo."

The appeals court said the city's health concerns could be taken  care of through regulation of tattooing, rather than an absolute ban on all  tattoo parlors in the city.

The court said the free-speech right applies to both tattooists  and their clients and to the process of tattooing as well.

Bybee wrote, "Tattooing is a process like writing words down or  drawing a picture except that it is performed on a person's skin."

He said, "The tattoo cannot be created without the tattooing  process any more than the Declaration of Independence could have been created  without a goose quill, foolscap and ink."

Under state law, tattooists must register with county health  departments. Hermosa Beach officials argued that they were concerned that Los  Angeles County had only one inspector to monitor nearly 300 local tattoo  parlors.
 

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