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Wearing his heart on his skin, tattoo parlor owner seeks 1st Amendment protection

Banned from opening a store in Hermosa Beach, he goes to federal court to get some respect for his art.

May 23, 2010|By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times

"If it's art, it's art, and art gets protection," UC Berkeley law professor and 1st Amendment expert Jesse Choper said of the debate over whether tattoos are protected speech. Hermosa Beach might have a chance of prevailing with the 9th Circuit judges, he said, if it imposed regulations limiting the practice to certain parts of the city or required the involvement of medical professionals. But he said he doubts its total ban on tattoo parlors will pass constitutional review.

Hermosa Beach officials argue in court papers that Anderson isn't engaged in expression but "merely providing a service." The city also contends that tattooing poses health risks, creates "aesthetic concerns," generates little tax revenue and would impose a financial burden on the city to provide adequate inspection and regulation.

Hermosa Beach officials have responded to Anderson's claims of 1st Amendment violation by pointing out that other means of expression are available for his images, like silk-screening on T-shirts or posters.

"T-shirts can be taken off. This is a different kind of expression," Anderson said of tattoos. "And one that is saying something pretty important if someone is wearing it for the rest of their life."

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