After ACLU Lawsuit, Rhode Island Town Repeals Tattoo Ban

January 30, 2003 12:00 am

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BRISTOL, RI — In response to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the town council here, by a 4-1 vote, agreed yesterday to amend the town’s tattoo ordinance which bans persons between the ages of 18 and 21 from getting tattoos, the ACLU announced today.

The vote came after ACLU volunteer attorney Carolyn Mannis appeared before the Town Council and requested a repeal of the ban in order to avoid further litigation over the issue.

The ACLU had a filed a federal lawsuit last November challenging the age ban as a violation of the First Amendment and the privacy rights of young adults. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Alfred Figueiredo, owner of the Forbidden Art Studio, a Bristol tattoo parlor, and Nicholas Arruda, a potential customer who would like Figueiredo to design and place a tattoo on him.

The ACLU lawsuit called tattoos “a unique form of personal art” that are “no less a form of expression than parades, marching, displaying swastikas, wearing an armband, saluting or refusing to salute a flag, singing or other artistic endeavors,” all of which are protected by the First Amendment. In 2001, a Massachusetts court struck down that state’s total ban on tattooing, finding it an unlawful burden on “constitutionally protected expression.”

The repeal will take effect next month after a second Council vote on the measure.

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