A Watertown man is criticizing the Town Council for adopting a program that seeks to curb hate crimes, saying he believes it violates his right to free speech.
Ralph Filicchia, 71, said he's "not a hater" but believes the town's participation in the Anti-Defamation League of New England's No Place For Hate program infringes on his freedom to hold opinions that may go against the grain.
"People should be free to express things without being charged with hatemongering or hate speech," said Filicchia, who is retired but does some freelance writing on political issues. "Isn't the whole idea of free speech to protect offensive speech?"
Filicchia hung a Confederate flag outside his Bellevue Road home last week in protest, saying he would leave it up until a "No Place for Hate" sign in front of Town Hall is removed.
Council President Clyde L. Younger said in an interview he was surprised at Filicchia's stance, since the No Place For Hate program is well-known and not about censoring speech, but fighting bigotry. The sign in front of Town Hall simply alerts the public that the town embraces diversity and that law enforcement will not turn a blind eye to hate crimes, he said.
"We're not regulating a person's inner thoughts," said Younger. "Keep it to yourself and nobody cares."
Filicchia first appeared before the council last month to ask that the sign in front of Town Hall be removed and that a July 2005 proclamation, in which the council unanimously declared Watertown as a No Place for Hate community, be rescinded.
Filicchia said he's miffed he hasn't received any official response yet, not even a phone call from the town saying, " 'Hey Ralph, you're a nut.' "
Filicchia said he's consulted with some lawyers about suing the town, though none have agreed to take his case.
"You can't criminalize the other guy's opinion," said Filicchia. "What they're doing is unconstitutional, un-American and plain, flat-out wrong. I don't know how they get away with it. No group can tell you what to think!"
The program was launched in 1999 by the Anti-Defamation League, in partnership with the Massachusetts Municipal Association. In order to be certified as a No Place For Hate community, cities and towns must pledge to conduct at least three public outreach or educational activities in one year that are consistent with the program's goals of ending hate crime.
The ADL counts more than 50 communities participating statewide.
The town's No Place for Hate committee will discuss the program and give a status report on it at the council's meeting Tuesday night. Younger said that the council would respond to Filicchia's complaint soon after the meeting.
Christina Pazzanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.