In Akron, Iowa, a man with a profane tattoo – – – the published image makes it difficult to determine the precise language – – – has been reportedly excluded from the municipal pool unless he covers it.
He claims a First Amendment right to display his tattoo, a claim that has firm First Amendment grounding. In Cohen v. California, decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1971, the Court upheld the right of a person to wear a jacket bearing the phrase “Fuck the Draft.” Cohen was charged with the California crime of tumultuous and offensive conduct causing a breach of the peace, but the Court found that “one particular scurrilous epithet” cannot be excised from public discourse under the First Amendment. The Court opined that “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric,” and added that “it is largely because governmental officials cannot make principled distinctions in this area that the Constitution leaves matters of taste and style so largely to the individual.”
The one distinction is that the Akron, Iowa action occurs in a specific place- – – a public pool- – – rather than the more traditional public forum of sidewalks and streets. The Court in Cohen specifically noted that although Cohen was in a courthouse, the law under which he was charged was a general criminal provision. And indeed, the Supreme Court itself polices its own building and grounds with regard to expression, profane and otherwise.