A conservative Roman Catholic media outlet sought to hold a rally during a meeting of a US bishop in Baltimore, claiming that city officials canceled the event because they rejected its religious message. The city says the gathering poses a threat to public safety, claiming that the fringe group appeased the rioters who stormed the US Capitol in January.
Event planners are asking a federal judge to decide whether the city is trampling on its First Amendment rights. U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander scheduled a hearing Thursday on a lawsuit filed by St. Michael’s Media against the city, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and City Solicitor James Shea.
Michigan-based St. Michael’s Media, also known as Church Militant, is a tax-exempt non-profit and digital media outlet. The far-right group says it publishes news about the Catholic Church on its website and often criticizes church leadership.
St. Michael’s plans to hold a “Prayer Rally” on November 16 at the city-owned Waterfront Pavilion. An advertisement for an event referred to speeches by former Donald Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon and right-wing agitator Milo Yiannopoulos.
In a court filing, the city says it directed the contractor to cancel the event “out of a legitimate fear that it would incite violence in the middle of downtown Baltimore.”
The city said Yiannapoulos’ speaking engagements attract protestors and lead to violence and property damage. It also said that Bannon “regularly invokes violence against government officials,” noting that Twitter banned his account. Last year when he called for the beheadings of Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
“And for a city like Baltimore, with a police department already diluted with a lack of a well-documented police officer, the decision to cancel an event featuring a speaker that extra protesters, counter protestors, expenses and invites potential violence, more than justified,” city lawyers wrote, referring to Yiannapoulos.
In 2017, confidant of Pope Francis ChurchMilitant.com was specifically mentioned in an article condemning the way some American evangelical and Roman Catholicism and politics are mixed. Antonio Spadaro’s article in the Vatican-approved magazine said media outlets framed the 2016 presidential election as a “spiritual war” and Trump’s ascent to the presidency as “a divine election.”
The pavilion is in front of a hotel where the American Conference of Catholic Bishops is scheduled to hold its national meeting from November 15 to 18.
St. Michael said he deliberately chose the date and place for his rally to coincide with the bishop’s meeting. The group also said it held a peaceful, city-allowed rally at the same location in 2018 during a national meeting of bishops.
The group is asking the judge to rule that canceling its rally violates constitutional rights to expression, religious expression and free assembly. He also wants Hollander to order the pavilion manager to “respect his contractual relationship” with St.
St. Michael’s lawsuit says its founder and CEO Michael Voris spoke to Xi about the cancellation in August. The city attorney told Voris that his office had seen reports that St. Michael’s had “connections” to the January 6 Capitol riots, the lawsuit says.
“Mr. Voris immediately told Xi that this was clearly incorrect and asked him about the source of any such reports. Shia replied that he himself had not received any such reports, but that unspecified ‘people’ Told them that such reports were widely available on the Internet,” the suit says.
In its court filing, the city church describes Militant as “an active campaigner” for baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump. Church militants “promoted and exalted” the rioters who stormed the Capitol, and Voris glorified the rebels during a broadcast on the night of January 6, city lawyers wrote.
St Michael’s claims that the city also wanted to cancel the rally because its leaders prefer to follow the “modern mainstream Catholic doctrine” of the bishop. The city said the group’s religious beliefs had nothing to do with the cancellation.
The city points to another pending trial as evidence that “property damage and violence is a real and valid concern.” A group of business owners sued the city of Baltimore over property damage during a protest against a black man, Freddie Gray., died in police custody in 2015. The city says it faces a potentially multimillion-dollar ruling if business owners prevail in its federal case.