Civil Rights

Woonsocket elected officials threaten to violate 1st Amendment rights if Pride organizers criticize them

“…the first one was billed as a ‘celebration’ that was approved by the council seven to nothing and it turned into an attack on the city council, the mayor, etc,” said Councilmember Cournoyer. “If the individual requesting [this resolution] behaves the way he has the last couple times, if I’m on here again it will be the last time…”
Photo for Woonsocket elected officials threaten to violate 1st Amendment rights if Pride organizers criticize them

Published on June 9, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

On Monday, June 6 the Woonsocket City Council took up a routine request from Rebuild Woonsocket to get a permit to hold the second annual Pride celebration in the city’s World War II Memorial Park. Last year, as Woonsocket city officials pushed back against the event the celebration morphed into a protest march. [See: First ever Woonsocket Pride celebration]

City officials such as Councilmember James Cornoyer and Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, were offended by some of the statements made by those attending Woonsocket Pride last year and used the routine passage of the resolution granting organizers use of the city park to air their grudges and promise retaliation if speakers at the event were critical of of elected politicians.

Of course, the right to assemble and freedom of speech are two of the most important freedoms protected by the constitution of the United States. You would just never know it by the following conversation:

Councilmember James Cournoyer: Just on this one – This is a request from Rebuild Woonsocket from Mr. Alex Kithes. I don’t know if he or any of his group os here but I’m just curious – Is this an event to give speeches bashing elected officials in Woonsocket as transphobic and homophobic as has been the case in the past when we’ve had these types of events? Does anyone know?

Council President Daniel Gendron: Is there anyone here from this organization? There’s not.

Cournoyer: Okay.

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt: I do want to make one comment. We did receive complaints through my office the last time that this park was utilized and families were upset because microphones were being used and there was vulgarity and chanting of vulgarity and things of that nature, with the children in the park. I find that I need to bring that to your attention.

Gendron: Thank you. Obviously that’s always inappropriate. It’s unfortunate that we have to start lecturing adults on what’s appropriate in front of children, but I guess that’s what happens with some people. So I guess we can just say we have to ask public safety to keep an eye on this and watch out for the children in the city. I don’t know what more we can do.

City Solicitor John DeSimone: Table it?

Councilmember Roger Jalette: That’s just what I was going to say. How about if we table it per a meeting with the organization?

Gendron: Well, it’s for June 11th. So if we table it it’s beyond the…

Councilmember Valerie Gonzalez: Is there any way we can amend it to include that there would be no use of profanity or vulgar language? I know it’s a new request…

Gendron: I don’t really feel comfortable with that because where does that end? I think that we’re just going to hope that they act like adults. I don’t know what more you can say. Solicitor, aren’t we crossing a fine line there if we start dictating what people can say?

DeSimone: We can put a police detail there. You could put a police detail.

Gendron: And require them to pay for it, or…

DeSimone: Or just do it at our ex- yeah, you can require them to pay for it. I don’t know what financial means they have… Either that we we just order a police detail to make sure that everything goes smoothly and the neighbors aren’t disturbed, if the council feels that way. I guess the Mayor feels that way. You know, however you want to handle it but…

Baldelli-Hunt: I don’t think we should have to expending our taxpayer dollars to monitor the behavior of someone who’s being granted a privilege of using our park.

Gendron: Yeah. That’s why I said at their expense but…

DeSimone: You could put it at their expense if you want I don’t know if they…

Cournoyer: My view is – look it – We’ve had these events the last couple of years and, as I said, the first one was billed as a quote, celebration that was approved by the council seven to nothing and it turned into an attack on the city council, the mayor, etc. Then we saw the same activity from the steps of city hall down in Providence, in the state’s capitol. And it happens over again. So my view is I’m happy to support this. I have no problem with these type of things. If the individual requesting [this resolution] behaves the way he has the last couple times, if I’m on here again it will be the last time. So…

Public Works Director Steven D’Agostino: I’m just going to say that if you review the charter, the parks fall under my purview and I’m uncomfortable with this event. If it moves forward, it will not be with my blessing.

Gendron: I understand. I will say this though: I think the intended celebration is not the problem and it’s a good cause. Unfortunately the organizers are the ones that have the reputation of being bad apples. So I hate to take away the celebration from the other good people that want to enjoy this because of a few bad apples. I’m reluctantly going to support it because I hope that the goodness outweighs the problems but Chief, if you could just ask your officers, if they hear of complaints to let us know and address that immediately, but let us know for future events that are requested.

Baldelli-Hunt: Council President, can you read section two please?

Gendron [reading]:Shall take effect upon passage by the city council and is subject to any conditions that the public safety department may impose and payment of all associated costs as determined by the Director of Public Works. The applicant will obtain a permit from the recreation director upon payment of fees.

Baldelli-Hunt: So that very clearly states any conditions put upon by the public safety director – any public safety department – anything they impose and payments associated – determined by the Director of Public Works. So you’re not prohibited from having oversight there. Their cost.

Gendron: What would you recommend then? Let’s just – If you want to add something I can ask somebody to make an amendment for what you would like to see happen. I’m uncomfortable starting to impose details, again, because it’s one or two bad apples and not, hopefully, not the group that is organizing. It’s the organizers, not the organization.

Gonzalez: So basically if we pass this we’re basically putting it in the court of the public safety director and the director of public works. Because it says both of them… so whatever is imposed would be determined by the people who have already seen and worked with them … What I’m saying is approving this resolution would basically just give you the freedom to do what you feel is necessary to do. Correct?

Gendron: Yeah.

Gonzalez: So I would be in support of this. I actually like that we have a section two.

Councilmember David Soucy: Quick question: Is that section two always included in these agreements?

Gendron: Yes. Same thing for the other two we passed.

Cournoyer: We’re not picking on anyone.

Soucy: We don’t want to have that impression.

Gendron: No. No. No.

Cournoyer: God no.

Councilmember Jalette voted no. Councilmembers Cournoyer, Gendron, Gonzalez, Soucy, John Ward and Denise Sierra voted to approve.

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