The state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said today that it will represent a nightclub owner as the Town Council debates whether to ban the controversial rap group 2 Live Crew from performing there.
Town officials were expected tonight to set a date for a hearing to determine whether it can revoke the Windjammer Concert Club's liquor and entertainment licenses because of the group's scheduled Oct. 6 concert.
ACLU volunteer attorney Stephen Fortunato Jr. and Windjammer owner M. J. Murphy of Westerly are expected to attend tonight's council session.
During a meeting last Monday, council members expressed concern about the content of the 2 Live Crew's lyrics and about the effect the group's appearance would have on public safety.
In an effort to block 2 Live Crew from performing in Westerly, the council voted unanimously to conduct a hearing on the Windjammer's licenses and to ask Atty. Gen. James E. O'Neil to decide whether the group's lyrics violate Rhode Island obscenity laws.
"We'll fight this flagrant censorship, whether it is a direct ban on the Windjammer hosting 2 Live Crew, or whether the Town Council places indirect burdens on the club, such as requiring the hiring of an inordinate and unnecessary number of police officers for the concert," Fortunato said today.
"Westerly officials' complete lack of concern for the First Amendment made our decision to enter this case inevitable," ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown said in a prepared statement.
"For those who strongly object to the group's music, I offer them the ingenious solution of not attending the concert and instead staying home that night and watching TV," Brown said last week.
By considering the ban, town officials "undoubtedly tripled the number of albums of the group that will now be sold in the community," Brown said.
The Windjammer concert was 2 Live Crew's only scheduled appearance in Rhode Island during its current "Banned in the USA" tour.
Council President Edward T. Morenzoni said last week he was concerned that the town would be inundated by fans of the group who could not obtain tickets to the show.
Representatives of the Windjammer, which has a capacity of about 1,800 people, have said 1,500 tickets would be available for the show.
Police Chief Mark S. Champlin said 35 to 40 police officers would have to be assigned to the concert to ensure public safety.
Councilman William F. Gingerella said he would not have approved the Windjammer's license if he knew the club was going to present groups like 2 Live Crew.