ACLU Says Massachusetts Criminal Ban on Tattooing Violates First Amendment

April 28, 1999 12:00 am

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Wednesday, April 28, 1999

BOSTON — The ACLU of Massachusetts today filed a civil rights law suit in Suffolk Superior Court challenging the state’s virtual ban on tattooing as a violation of First Amendment free speech rights.

The suit was filed on behalf of two Martha’s Vineyard men, one a tattoo artist, the other a person who would like to receive a tattoo in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts, along with North Carolina and Oklahoma, is one of three states that makes tattooing a crime. The Massachusetts statute makes it a crime punishable by up to one year in jail or a $300 fine for any person other than a licensed physician to “mark the body of any other person by means of tattooing.”

“Tattooing is a form of art and a form of expression,” said Harvey A. Schwartz, the ACLU attorney for the two men. “Tattooing has as much right to Constitutional protection as what you see on museum walls. The government can certainly regulate it for health reasons, but it can’t just ban this form of expression.”

The ACLU’s lawsuit asks the court to declare that the Massachusetts statute violates the First Amendment and the Massachusetts Constitution.

The suit was filed on behalf of Stephan A. Lanphear and John R. Parkinson.

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