ACLU Sues Cleveland Over Tattoo Ban, Saying Ordinance Censors Ancient Art Form

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
February 13, 2001 12:00 am

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CLEVELAND, OH–The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today filed a legal challenge to a Cleveland law that bans tattooing citywide, saying the ban violates the right to freedom of expression by prohibiting the practice of an ancient and recognized art form within city limits.

“The art of tattooing stretches back into the depths of prehistory, and is widely recognized today as a legitimate art form,” said Cleveland attorney Daniel Margolis, who is handling the case for the ACLU of Ohio as a volunteer.

The city ordinance, which dates from 1976, bans both the act of tattooing and of allowing oneself to be tattooed. Curiously, Margolis noted, the law makes narrow exceptions for tattoos received during trade shows and conventions. Ohio law provides detailed health and safety regulations for tattoo shops, but nowhere bans the procedure.

The federal civil rights lawsuit was filed on behalf of Tony DeRigo, a tattoo artist who owns and operates Chronic Tattoo, an established Lorain County business he had hoped to expand into Cleveland. DeRigo said he intends to open a shop in Cleveland if and when the tattoo ban is either repealed or invalidated.

Today’s legal challenge follows the lead of a successful ACLU challenge to a statewide ban on tattooing in Massachusetts, which was declared unconstitutional by a state court judge in October of last year.

“This is a case about free expression,” said ACLU of Ohio Staff Attorney Jillian Davis. “Existing state laws provide for public health and safety in this area, and our client runs a scrupulously clean shop,” she added. “The ban reflects an outmoded bias whose time is past.”

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