South Bend bar's dress code prohibiting tattoos within the law

May 11, 2015

A northern Indiana bar was within its rights to deny a man entry because his neck tattoo violated its dress code despite the patron's feelings of discrimination, a civil rights group says.

Brothers Bar and Grill in South Bend denied Gary Briscoe entry in March when he and another instructor at a local martial arts school went out after class with friends. Briscoe has a small cross tattooed on the left side of his neck, along with the words "Lord Watch Over Me."

The bar said the tattoo violates its dress code, which was implemented in 2013 to deal with problems of violence. The dress code bars headbands and bandanas, requires loose neck jewelry to be tucked in and ball caps to be worn facing straight forward or straight back. It also bars visible tattoos above the neckline.

Briscoe's colleague, Jack Wilkinson, said being refused entry was "really embarrassing." But Jane Henegar, executive director of the Indiana Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the private business was within its rights to implement the dress policy.

"As a general matter," Henegar said, "there is no constitutional issue implicated in a restaurant's dress code."

The Brothers franchise, which is owned by the La Crosse, Wisconsin-based Fortney Co., implemented the policy to discourage gang members from entering the establishment. The move followed a jump in violence in 2013 that included a shooting a block south of the bar during a fight that involved more than 100 people, many of whom came from inside Brothers, the South Bend Tribune reported.

The company didn't respond to a request seeking comment.

Crime in the Eddy Street Commons area where the bar is located has declined, but South Bend police Capt. Phil Trent said it's hard to say whether the dress code has contributed to the decrease.

He noted that the city has stepped up enforcement of nuisance properties where police are frequently called and is working with landlords, residents and businesses to find effective solutions.

"I credit everyone, especially the businesses," he said.


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