Conservative Roman Catholic media seeking to organize a rally at a meeting of American bishops in Baltimore says city officials have canceled the event because they disapprove of its religious message. The city claims the rally poses a threat to public safety, saying the fringe group encouraged the rioters who stormed the United States Capitol in January.
Event planners are asking a federal judge to rule whether the city is trampling on their First Amendment rights. U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander on Thursday heard testimony from clergy abuse survivors who wish to speak at the “prayer rally” that St. Michael’s Media was planning to hold on November 16 at a lodge by the waterfront. water belonging to the city.
An event ad touts speeches by former Donald Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon and far-right agitator Milo Yiannopoulos, who testified at Thursday’s hearing. Yiannopoulos said he wanted to speak at the rally because he was raped by a Catholic priest and wanted to encourage other abuse survivors to “confront the facilitators and the abusers.”
The Associated Press does not usually name people who have been sexually abused, but Yiannopoulos agreed to be identified and said he wrote about what happened in the past.
The city said Yiannopoulos’ speeches attracted counter-protesters and resulted in violence and property damage. He also said Bannon “regularly calls for violence against government officials,” noting that Twitter banned his account last year after calling for the beheadings of Dr Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
Yiannopoulos said he has adopted a softer, less caustic tone in his speeches in recent years and doubts any counter-protesters show up at an event like the one St. Michael’s wants to host.
“The risk seems close to zero to me,” said Yiannopoulos, now a paid columnist for St. Michael’s Media. “No one comes to protest against me these days, which is a great relief. “
Michigan-based St. Michael’s Media, also known as Church Militant, sued the city, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and city attorney James Shea on September 13. Church and often criticizes Church leaders.
In a court case, the city said it asked the contractor who runs the pavilion to cancel the event “out of legitimate fear it might incite violence in the heart of downtown Baltimore.”
“And for a city like Baltimore, with a police department already stretched with a well-documented police shortage, the decision to cancel an event featuring a speaker who invites additional protesters, counter-protesters, expenses and potential violence is more than reasonable. ”, Wrote the city’s lawyers, referring to Yiannopolous.
Marc Randazza, a lawyer for St. Michael’s, said Yiannopoulos was prepared to step down if the city allowed the rally to proceed. The city rejected the offer, Randazza told the judge.
“I want the sound of my own voice no more than the successful and peaceful execution of the rally,” Yiannopoulos said.
However, Yiannopoulos signed a written statement that he intended to sue the city for allegedly suppressing his free speech rights if he agreed to withdraw from speaking.
“I didn’t know the warning,” the judge said.
Hollander was scheduled to hear arguments from lawyers on Friday morning, the Baltimore Sun reported.
In 2017, a confidant of Pope Francis specifically mentioned ChurchMilitant.com in an article condemning the way some American Evangelicals and Catholics mix religion and politics. The article by Reverend Antonio Spadaro in a Vatican-approved magazine said the media presented the 2016 presidential election as a “spiritual war” and Trump’s rise to the presidency as “a divine election.”
The pavilion is across from a hotel where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is scheduled to hold its national meeting from November 15-18.
St. Michael’s said it deliberately chose the date and location of its gathering to coincide with the bishops’ meeting. The group also said they held a city-authorized peaceful rally at the same site during the national bishops’ meeting in 2018.
The group is asking the judge to rule that the cancellation of its rally violates its constitutional rights to freedom of expression, religious expression and free assembly. He also wants Hollander to order the lodge manager to “honor his contractual relationship” with St. Michael’s.
St. Michael’s lawsuit said its founder and CEO Michael Voris spoke with Shea about the cancellation in August. The town’s attorney told Voris his office had seen reports that St. Michael’s had “links” to the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill, according to the lawsuit.
“Sir. Voris immediately told Shea that this was categorically false and asked for the source of these reports. Shea replied that he had not found any such reports himself, but that unspecified” persons “him. said that these reports were widely available on the Internet, ”said the trial.
In its court file, the city describes Church Militant as “an active propagandist” for baseless allegations that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump. Church Militant “promoted and exalted” the rioters who stormed the Capitol, and Voris glorified the insurgents on a broadcast on the night of January 6, city prosecutors wrote.
St. Michael’s says the city also wanted to cancel the rally because its leaders prefer the bishops’ adherence to “modern mainstream Catholic doctrine.” The city said the group’s religious beliefs had nothing to do with the cancellation.