BALTIMORE (CNS) – United States District Judge Ellen Hollander on Oct. 12 ruled that Michigan-based St. Michael’s Media, also known as Church Militant, can host the Nov. 16 rally. that she wanted to host in a waterfront pavilion owned by the city near the hotel where the American bishops will meet from November 15 to 18.
The Catholic advocacy group known for its critical comments on Catholic leaders filed a lawsuit in federal court after the city of Baltimore canceled the event.
Hollander issued an injunction overturning the city’s decision to cancel the event.
In response, the city of Baltimore filed an appeal with the United States 4th Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Virginia.
St. Michael’s Media said on Oct. 13 it had filed a contempt motion in Baltimore for violating Hollander’s order after being told by the pavilion contractor that it was “on hold and that ‘he was not authorized to perform the contract “.
In its initial lawsuit filed in court in Hollander, Church Militant argued that by denying approval for the rally, city officials violated the organization’s First Amendment rights guaranteeing free speech, the right meeting and the free exercise of religion. The group said the city had engaged in “point of view discrimination.”
The city said in a court filing that it had asked the contractor that operates the pavilion to cancel the event “out of legitimate fear it would incite violence in the heart of downtown Baltimore.”
The city also argued that the Baltimore Police Department was already understaffed and would be seriously challenged to respond to any violence that could result from the event.
Among the speakers that Church Militant has promoted for the event is far-right polemicist Milo Yiannopoulos.
The city said Yiannopoulos’ appearances elsewhere drew large crowds and counter-protesters and resulted in violence and property damage.
The Church Militant lawsuit also noted that when Michael Voris, founder and CEO of St. Michael’s, spoke with city attorney James Shea about the cancellation in mid-August, Shea told Voris that ‘He had seen reports that St. Michael’s had “links” to the January 6 Violence at the United States Capitol.
“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 unspecified ‘persons’ him. said these reports were widely available on the Internet, âthe lawsuit said.
Hollander, in its 86-page decision, said the city “essentially invoked or relied on the rowdy’s veto” to “thwart the rally.”
âAnd in doing so he exercised complete and unimpeded discretion; he acted on an ad hoc basis, without any standard. Additionally, he presented somewhat shifting justifications for his actions, with little evidence to show that the decision was based on those justifications. “
âThe city cannot bring up hypothetical rowdies and then grant them a veto,â she said.
Hollander said the city had not shown “that there is no less restrictive alternative to an outright ban on gatherings at the Pavilion.”
She acknowledged that the city “raises an understandable concern that it will be forced to welcome any group that wishes to use the pavilion, regardless of the potential for disruption.”
“To be clear, nothing in this notice is intended to prevent the city from legally restricting or limiting access to the lodge,” she said. âBut, such a decision must be neutral from a point of view. I find that the plaintiff is likely to win on the merits of the allegation that the city violated its free speech rights under the First Amendment.
Hollander’s decision focused on the Church activist’s claim that the city violated its First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly by canceling the rally.
She did not respond to the group’s claim that her right to the free exercise of her religion had been violated.
She only said that during the hearings in the case on September 30 and October 1, the plaintiff’s lawyer “appeared to admit that his claims based on the” free exercise clause and the cause of the establishment of the First Amendment ” are weak.â¦ Indeed, there is no evidence to support these claims.
She said the city was justified in asking for “a significant bond” to cover “any harm” that might result if the rally resulted in disruption and violence. She posted a bond of $ 250,000 and noted that Church Militant said they had taken out a $ 2 million insurance policy for the event.
Church Militant held a rally in the same pavilion during the Bishops’ Meeting in November 2018 without incident. About 300 people attended the rally, far fewer than the originally planned group.
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