Judge says Baltimore can't block Catholic media group's rally

Judge says Baltimore can't block Catholic media group's rally
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A U.S. District Judge ruled on Tuesday that Baltimore city officials cannot stop a Catholic media outlet from holding a rally, pointing to freedom of speech and assembly.

Judge Ellen Hollander wrote in an order that St. Michael’s Media Inc., which also goes by the name Church Militant, has “demonstrated a substantial likelihood” that it will be successful in its claim that Baltimore officials infringed on its freedom of speech and assembly when it tried to stop a rally planned for next month.

The media group — which writes stories about the Catholic Church that sometimes denounce church leadership — is arguing the city tried to block the rally because of its political views.

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St. Michael’s Media filed a lawsuit against the city of Baltimore, Mayor Brandon Scott and City Solicitor James Shea last month after they moved to stop the Nov. 16 rally from happening.

The event is set to take place at Royal Farms Arena, a pavilion owned by the city, at the same time a U.S. bishops’ meeting was scheduled to occur.

An advertisement for the rally promoted speeches from former President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE, his ex-chief strategist Steve BannonStephen (Steve) Kevin BannonAt least five Trump administration staffers have spoken with Jan 6 committee: CNN Press: No excuse for Garland to not prosecute Bannon Report: Rally organizers say GOP lawmakers worked on Jan. 6 protests MORE and far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, according to The Associated Press.

On Aug. 5, however, Royal Farms contacted St. Michael’s to cancel the rally, without providing detail as to why, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs allege that Shea then told St. Michael’s CEO Michael Voris that the city received reports that the media outlet had “ties" to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The city, according to the AP, argued that the rally would create a public safety threat, adding that Yiannopoulos’s speaking appearances often bring counterprotests to the area, which results in violence and property damage.

The defendants also said Bannon “regularly calls for violence against government officials.”

Hollander, however, said the city “has presented somewhat shifting justifications for its actions, with little evidence to show that the decision was premised on these justifications." She said officials seem to be building its decision on the “anticipated reaction” of counterprotesters at the event, which may lead to violence.

“The City’s invocation of a heckler’s veto also raises serious concerns that its decision was motivated by viewpoint discrimination,” she wrote. “The City cannot conjure up hypothetical hecklers and then grant them veto power.”

The judge also took issue with the city’s mention of the Jan. 6 riots, contending that it “never accuses St. Michael’s of actual involvement in the events of January 6, 2021. Rather, it is critical of plaintiff for its coverage and support of the occurrence.”

As of Wednesday, Royal Farms indicated the city was still not prepared to allow the event to proceed. "Per the city we are still in a holding pattern and not allowed to execute on the contract," a Royal Farms manager wrote to Voris, according to an email provided to The Hill.

Baltimore city officials also filed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit on Wednesday.

When asked by The Hill if he thinks the rally will take place on Nov. 16, Marc Randazza, an attorney representing St. Michael’s Media, responded “F--- yes.”

“The judge did what the judge’s job is and that is to look at the facts, look at the law and uphold and defend the Constitution,” Randazza said.

”And she did that. What’s disgraceful is that the city does not want that to happen,” he added.

The Hill reached out to Scott for comment.

Updated at 5:55 p.m.