A moko is a political statement and employers should have the right not to employ someone with facial tattoos, says Act MP Stephen Franks.

"Any New Zealander, of course, should be free to wear a moko," he said yesterday.

"But equally, we should all take personal responsibility for the consequences of our decisions."

Rangitikei woman Christina Bevan has laid a complaint with the Human Rights Commission after she was refused work at the Brooklyne Tearooms in Sanson. The owner allegedly told her the moko would not be good for business.

The commission is assessing the complaint to see if it falls within its jurisdiction and expects to make a decision next week.

The owner of the Brooklyne Tearooms is overseas on holiday and could not be reached for comment.

Mr Franks, Act's justice spokesman, said people had a right to freedom of association as well as freedom of expression.

"It is well-established that freedom of association also means freedom from forced association.

"Those who disagree with a fashion or political statement should be free to ensure they don't have it shoved in their face all the time, on their own premises and with their customers."

Rawinia Higgins, a lecturer at Te Tumu, Otago University's Maori, Pacific Island and Indigenous Studies Department, agreed a moko was a political statement.

"I wouldn't say it was a fashion statement," she said. "It is a political statement that says that person is proud of their identity."

Moko had undergone a renaissance but still had negative stereotypes associated with gang members and political activists.

"Now you have women and men who have decided they will wear that because their ancestors did."

Traditionally women were chosen to have moko because of their whakapapa, or genealogy, said Dr Higgins, who wrote her thesis on moko.

"The moko would indicate they had certain responsibilities; they would represent the hapu on the marae."

In some parts of New Zealand, such as the Tuhoe area, it was becoming "part of the norm" for women to have moko.

- NZPA