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Tattoos are a Form of Protected Speech, AZ Supreme Court Rules

By Andrew Lu | Last updated on

The Arizona Supreme Court found that tattoos are a constitutionally protected form of free speech.

The question of whether tattooing is protected speech had been litigated in several states with mixed results, reports Reuters. However, this Arizona decision is significant as it is the first decision by a state Supreme Court to find that tattoos can be protected speech.

So does this decision mean that tattoo parlors can just open everywhere and anywhere in Arizona? Not exactly.

The Arizona free speech decision stemmed from a dispute between two tattoo artists who sought to open a tattoo parlor in a strip mall in the city of Mesa. The couple had applied for a business permit, and city zoning staff recommended it be issued to them, reports Reuters. However, the city council denied the permit finding that the shop was "not appropriate for the location or in the best interest of the neighborhood."

The tattoo artists then sued the city claiming that their freedom of speech rights were violated with the denied permit.

A lower court ruled for the city and dismissed the tattoo artists' complaint stating that tattoos did not involve free speech. However, the Arizona Supreme Court overturned the lower court's decision and found that tattoos do in fact involve free speech.

But instead of allowing the tattoo artists to simply open shop and be repaid lost income, the Arizona Supreme Court simply kicked the case back down to determine the "factual issues."

On re-review, the lower court may look at factors like whether the city has valid reasons for not wanting the tattoo parlor in the strip mall -- such as if it is near a school, can attract crime, or will lead to too much traffic. The city can still deny the permit for the Arizona tattoo parlor for many reasons unrelated to free speech.

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