Body Art Discrimination: Violation of First Amendment?

by Project Censored

Its not rare these days to see a man or woman with a tattoo or with his or her entire limbs tattooed. With tattoos varrying from pictures to scriptures, people have made their skin their own diary. In that case it falls to freedon of speech. Freedom of speech is being able to express one’s thoughts and feelings in anyway that’s not harmful to others. Many large companies won’t hire people with tattooes. For example lets say you’re going for the position at a fortune 500 company and you have a tattoo about one of your relatives that has passed and you don’t get the job because of this tattoo. You earned your degree wearing that tattoo, so why should getting a job be a problem? Is this a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech?


“Anatolia Tattoo- Nose Piercing” Anatolia Tattoo. 10 November 2013.

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Bolin, Wesley. Personal Interview. 10 November 2013.

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Find Law “US Constitution and First Amendment” 10 November 2013.

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Watkins, Terry. “TATTOO: The Cup of The Devils” Dial-The-Truth-Ministries. 11 November 2013.

Student Reachers: Brandon Graber

Faculty Evalulator: Elliot D.Cohen,Ph.D., Indian River State College


Throughout the decades more and more men and women alike have chosen to use their bodies as canvases for permanent artwork:   “tattoos.” Back in the 1900’s it was most popular for men who partook in the military forces and manual labor to have tattoos. However, today it has become more of a popular fad. This “fad” has left a difficult decision amongst employers: whether or not they should prohibit their employees to bear visible tattoos. The employer is torn; he or she must decide to bypass outstanding skills or recommendations because the interviewee has “abnormal” piecrings, and/or tattoos, or whether he or she should bypass the tattoos/piercings because the interviewee has outstanding skills or recommendations.

The First Amendment entitles freedom of speech to every American citizen. Tattoos and piercings are considered to be a way of expressing one’s own beliefs, thoughts, and feelings. Therefore, people with tattoos should be protected under the First Amendment. Also, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion, and national origin(US EEOC). Some people get tattoos and piercings because it is a religious practice of theirs; by not hiring people because of their religious tattoos and piercings that employer is breaking the law. Because of the popularity of tattoos and piercings, the First Amendment, equal-opportunity laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and religions such as Paganism that practice tattooing and piercing, tattoos and piercings should be accepted in the work place, and if an employer chooses not to hire a person simply based on the fact that he or she has tattoos and/or piercings, the employer should be held responsible for discrimination and there should be a legal remedy for it.

Many employers have decided to allow tattoos in the work place as long as they are not offensive. Some employers such as Sea World Orlando, Walt Disney World, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have written policies that apply to visible tattoos. These policies state restrictions each business has for visible tattoos, for example: if a tattoo is distracting or offensive it needs to be covered up. Most people who have tattoos don’t mind covering them up, but one must wonder if this infringes on their rights under the First Amendment and equal opportunity laws. Also, many places will not hire people who have gauges, a piercing that is much larger in circumference than “normal” piercings, or facial piercings such as nose, lip, and eyebrow piercings. Employers should have say on how workers wear their uniform, not what’s underneath. Employers should have no say on what their employees do to their flesh, whether it be piercing or coloring it permanently.

Employers pay their employees for the work they do for them. However, employers do not own their workers; they have no say on what they do outside of the workplace. It is considered “unacceptable” if an employer tells their employees to lose weight, so why is it acceptable for an employer to tell their employees not to have tattoos or “abnormal” piercings? Employees should not permit their bosses to tell them how their bodies should look, whether it be because the employee is overweight, too thin, too pale, or tattooed/pierced. Employers should be more concerned about the quality of work their employees are producing, not how their bodies look. There shouldn’t be a problem if the employee is wearing his or her uniform in a professional manner as designated by the employer, but there should be a problem when an employer is prohibiting employees to do what they want with their own bodies and threatening to let them go if they proceed to get tattoos/piercings, of which he or she does not approve.

Throughout history the tattoo has been a common practice in several different religions and beliefs such as paganism, demonism, Baal worship, shamanism, mysticism, heathenism, cannibalism and just about every other pagan belief known. Also, tattooing is often a magical rite in the more traditional cultures, and the tattooist is respected as a priest or shaman. In Fiji, Fromosa, New Zealand and in certain of the North American Indian tribes, tattooing was regarded as a religious ceremony, and performed by priests or priestesses. “ The actual tattooing process, which involved complex ritual and taboos, could only be done by priests and was associated with beliefs which secrets were known only to members of the priestly caste . . . historically tattooing had originated in connection with ancient rites of scarification and bloodletting which were associated with religious practices intended to put the human soul in harmony with supernatural forces and ensure continuity between this life and the next.   Buddhists have been tattooing since before Jesus was said to have lived. Nostril piercing is a body piercing practice often associated with India. In India the outside of the left nostril is the preferred position of the piercing as this is supposed to make childbirth easier.

By asking employees to hide their tattoos, or not hiring people because of their tattoos and/or piercings, employers are going against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which clearly states that employers cannot discriminate based on religion. Tattooing, as well as piercing, is clearly a much-worshiped practice in many religions and beliefs. Asking someone to cover their religious art is like asking Catholics to not wear their crucifixes, or Jews to not wear their yamakas. America is supposed to be a country who embraces diversity, so why are several American business owners totally disregarding cultures, practices, and religions and beliefs of others than their own? Why is America even permitting these mainstream discriminations to happen, even though it is clearly against the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Legally and ethically, this discrimination should not be permitted.

In contrast, some businesses are even hiring people because they have tattoos because they feel it provides a “hipper” atmosphere. By hiring people with tattoos places attract a different crowd. This benefits some places like trendy restaurants, music stores, clothing stores like Hot Topic and Pac Sun. Also, some employers are hiring tattooed people because it makes their staff more diverse. By discriminating against tattoos businesses are, in fact, cutting down on popular, mainstream clientele.

Businesses not hiring people with tattoos could be missing out on prospective employees who could benefit their businesses in many ways just because they have tattoos. A person’s outstanding qualifications and recommendations for a job should not be bypassed merely on the fact that he or she has body art. Wesley Bolin, once a reliable worker at the local Dairy Queen of Winter Haven, Florida stated “I worked at DQ for more than four years; I never called in sick, always came in when somebody needed me to cover their hours, stayed after work without pay more than 50 times, never had been written up, or even had the impression that my boss disapproved of any of my work ethics. But, my boss fired me for getting a tattoo of a penguin on my lower forearm, and two lip piercings. My boss even admits that I was the best worker he has ever had, but he just can’t deal with my body art.”

According to a 2006 study by the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, 25 percent of adults, ages 18-50, in the US currently have a tattoo. In 2003, just 15 percent of US adults had a tattoo. The amount of people who have tattoos seems to be growing each year. It is quite possible that sooner or later more people will have tattoos than not, so shouldn’t America start to grow accustomed to body art by hiring people who have body art and are capable of the job? If businesses continue to hold their “no tattoo” policies, they will soon realize that they will be short employees.

The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Body art is a practice of some religions; therefore by prohibiting it in the workplace employers are violating the First Amendment. If someone violates the First Amendment there is supposed to be a legal remedy; therefore companies choosing to not hire someone because of their religious body art should be held accountable.

Discriminating people because of their creativity and religion expressed through their body is morally unjust. Not only should we, as citizens of America, not discriminate against them, but businesses and companies especially should not discriminate against them. Because of the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, companies should not be permitted to not hire or fire people/employees simply because they display body art.