In a federal civil rights lawsuit to be filed February 13, 2001, lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation will challenge a Cleveland law which bans tattooing city wide. Codified Ordinance 225.07 – which dates from 1976 – bans both the act of tattooing and of allowing oneself to be tattooed. Strangely, the law makes narrow exceptions for tattoos received during trade shows and conventions. Lawyers for the ACLU contend that the ban violates the First Amendment right to freedom of expression, in that it prohibits 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. Ohio law provides detailed health and safety regulations for tattoo shops, but no where bans the procedure. The suit filed tomorrow will be brought 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 until stopped by the ordinance at issue. DeRigo intends to open a shop in Cleveland if and when the tattoo ban is either repealed or invalidated.

The suit 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,” Davis added. “The ban reflects an outmoded bias whose time is past.”