Tattoos and the practice of tattooing have existed for centuries and across many cultures. In the U.S. 1 in 4 adults under 50 had a tattoo, According to a 2006 study by Northwestern University; a 2012 poll conducted by The Harris Poll found that 20 percent of adults of any age have at least one tattoo. The attitude toward tattoos in American culture has shifted considerably in the last twenty years: today, tattoos are second only to ear piercing as a mainstream body modification.

"Tattoo parlors, once viewed as hangouts for bikers, dropouts, and convicts, have to an extent transformed into high-end tattoo studios frequented by everyone from Hollywood’s rich and famous to middle-aged soccer moms," wrote Matthew Allen Cherep in his article about the First Amendment protections of tattooing. As attitudes towards tattooing, those who boast them and those who practice the craft have morphed, so too have laws and local ordinances which once banned the practice. In recent decisions (below), the courts have upheld tattoos and tattooing as "pure speech" and "pure expression." However, some ordinances — remnants of an eroding taboo against the practice — remain, under health and sanitation codes. 


Victories for the freedom to Tattoo:

Anderson vs. City of Hermosa Beach (9th Circuit, 2010): ruled that "tattooing is purely expressive activity fully protective by the First Amendment, and that a total ban on such activity is not a reasonable "time, place, or manner" restriction. 

Coleman vs. City of Mesa (Arizona Court of Appeals, 2011): held that the act and business of tattooing constitutes pure speech under the First Amendment and is subject to highest level of protection. The court founde citizens’ claims that opening a tattoo parlor would cause an increase in crime and a decrease in property values to be unsubstantiated and unconvincing.