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Do tattoos have free-speech protection? Court hears 1st Amendment fight. What do you think?

May 25, 2010 |  8:07 am

TalkBackLAOne man's flesh-bound free speech is another's idea of unhealthful mutilation and underclass war paint. In the city of Hermosa Beach and other upscale oceanfront communities, tattooing is effectively banned for what city officials say is a risk to the public's health, safety and welfare.

John Anderson, owner of the Yer Cheat'n Heart tattoo parlor in Gardena, said he thinks his store is in a seedy neighborhood and sought to move to a vacant storefront in Hermosa Beach in 2006. His request to open a parlor there was denied on grounds that zoning laws don't allow tattooing anywhere in the city. He sued in federal court in Los Angeles, alleging suppression of his 1st Amendment right to impart artistic expression on customers' bodies.

The tattoo artist lost the first round of his legal challenge in 2008 when a federal judge deemed tattooing "not sufficiently imbued with elements of communication" to qualify as constitutionally protected speech.

Anderson took his case to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this month, and some constitutional law scholars predict the outcome could be different in what would be the first — and potentially precedent-setting — federal appellate decision on whether the tattoo artist is engaged in 1st Amendment-protected activity when designing and applying custom tattoos.

Anderson blames his failure in the lower court on the persistent impression, especially among older Americans, that tattoo parlors attract an unsavory clientele.

Read Times legal affair writer Carol J. Williams' full story here. She talks about the case in the video above.

What do you think? Share your thoughts below.