In Yurkew v. Sinclair, Yurkew, a commercial tattooist, brought an action for an injunction against the Minnesota State Fair Board of Managers for its refusal to rent him space for commercial tattooing at a state fair on the grounds that his First Amendment right to free expression was violated. The plaintiff contended that
- As a tattooist, he is an artist;
- The process of creating a tattoo, as well as the tattoos themselves, is a form of expression that is protected by the First Amendment;
- A State Fair is a public forum for purposes of the First Amendment and as such, the government cannot regulate speech-related conduct, like tattooing, except in narrow ways that are necessary to serve significant governmental interests; and
- The Board of Managers refusal to rent Yurkew space served no such significant government interest and therefore violated his First Amendment rights.
The crucial issue in this case was whether the actual process of tattooing, as opposed to the image conveyed by the tattoo itself, could be considered First Amendment speech. The court held that it could not. The Court reasoned that the First Amendment protects conduct only if it is communicative in character. The Court concluded that the normal observer or even the recipient of a tattoo would not regard the mere process of tattooing as communicative of ideas of any social or political significance.Therefore, the court denied Yurkew’s request for an injunction and granted the board's motion for summary judgment on the tattooist's First Amendment claim.
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