Baltimore Can't Prevent Catholic Media Outlet From Holding Rally at City Building: Panel

Baltimore cannot block a conservative Catholic media outlet from holding a prayer rally in a city-owned center during the fall assembly of U.S. bishops, a federal appeals court ruled late Wednesday. The decision from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' three-judge panel upheld a judge's earlier ruling in favor of St. Michael's Media Inc.

Cal Harris, a spokesperson for Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, voiced disappointment over the court's ruling. He said that city officials "remain concerned about the potential public safety threat to Baltimore City property posed by the rally," which is scheduled to take place November 16.

"Protecting Baltimore residents and their property is our top priority, however, we will abide by the direction of the courts," Harris said in a statement.

St. Michael's Media successfully signed a contract with a city vendor Thursday, hours after the appeals court announced its decision, according to the media outlet's attorney, Marc Randazza.

"Baltimore hopefully learned a lesson in First Amendment law that its taxpayers now have to pay for," Randazza told the AP.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Catholic Media Wins Case
A federal appeals court has upheld a judge’s ruling that Baltimore city officials cannot ban a conservative Roman Catholic media outlet from holding a rally at a city-owned pavilion during a U.S. bishops’ meeting. Above, St. Michael's Media founder and CEO Michael Voris, left, and Milo Yiannopoulos talk with a court officer before entering the federal courthouse, September 30, in Baltimore. Gail Burton/AP Photo

St. Michael's has said its rally will include speeches by former President Donald Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon and far-right agitator Milo Yiannopoulos.

The city argued that the gathering poses a threat to public safety. City attorneys noted that Yiannopoulos' speaking engagements have attracted counterprotesters and led to violence and property damage, while Bannon "regularly calls for violence against government officials."

The 4th Circuit panel didn't explain its decision to uphold U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander's October 12 ruling that St. Michael's, also known as Church Militant, is likely to succeed on its claims that the city discriminated against it on the basis of its political views and violated its First Amendment free speech rights.

Hollander said city officials could not prohibit the pavilion's manager from contracting with St. Michael's, but she refused to set any court-ordered contractual terms.

The waterfront pavilion is across from a hotel where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is scheduled to hold its national meeting from November 15 to November 18. St. Michael's said it deliberately picked the date and location for its rally to coincide with the bishops' meeting. The group also said it held a peaceful, city-permitted rally at the same site during the bishops' national meeting in 2018.

In 2017, a confidant of Pope Francis specifically mentioned ChurchMilitant.com in an article condemning the way some American evangelicals and Roman Catholics mix religion and politics. The Rev. Antonio Spadaro's article in a Vatican-approved magazine said the media outlet framed the 2016 presidential election as a "spiritual war" and Trump's ascent to the presidency as "a divine election."

St. Michael’s Media Founder
St. Michael's Media successfully signed a contract with a Baltimore city vendor Thursday, hours after an appeals court sided with the outlet. Above, St. Michael's founder and CEO Michael Voris walks into the federal courthouse on September 30 in Baltimore. Gail Burton/AP Photo