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Judge Orders Baltimore To Allow 'Church Militant' Rally Featuring Far Right Speakers, Legal Analyst Weighs In On Ruling

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- A federal judge ruled Baltimore City can't reject the request on behalf of the Catholic conservative group, Saint Michael's Media, to rent out the MECU Pavilion.

But the mayor's office said it intends to appeal the judge's ruling, saying it's a matter of public safety.

"You're not allowed as a government to make decisions about which messages and which viewpoint are going to have the opportunity to be expressed," said Adam Ruther, Partner at Rosenberg Martin Greenberg, LLP, in an interview with WJZ Wednesday.

St. Michaels Media — also known as Church Militant — plans to make their voices heard on the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal in November, when Catholic bishops from around the country gather in Baltimore for a conference.

The group tried to rent the city-owned MECU Pavilion at Pier Six, even putting down a deposit. But city leaders rejected that request. Church Militant then sued, claiming its First Amendment rights were being violated.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander ruled late Tuesday that Church Militant is likely to succeed on its argument that the city violated its free speech rights and is discriminating against the group based on its political views.

"They saw a concern that the message that they thought was going to be expressed might cause problems in the community, there might be counter-protests, there might even be, God forbid, some degree of violence," said Ruther.

But Ruther said that crosses a constitutional line, echoing what U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander ruled. He said the right to free speech means "people who express even unfavorable or dangerous ideas should be allowed to have their moment to express them."

"We are disappointed by the Court's decision and potential threat to public safety if this event ensues," a spokesperson for Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said in a statement to WJZ. "The proposed rally is slated to take place on Baltimore City property, and we have a responsibility to protect our property and fellow citizens. We remain committed to this charge and will appeal this decision."

The city fears violence in the expected crowd of 3,000 people and cites incendiary speakers who are expected to attend—including Steve Bannon, the former Chief Strategist for President Trump, and Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing provocateur. A 2017 appearance by Yiannapoulos led to violence in Berkeley, California.

Bannon called for the beheading of Dr. Anthony Fauci on his podcast last year.

Until the conclusion of the litigation, no city officials or employees can prohibit the group from entering into a contract with the pavilion's manager, Hollander said.

The judge did not set any expectations on the terms of the contract. Hollander said in her decision she "anticipates good faith negotiations, but expresses no opinion on the terms of a contract."

Church Militant said there was no violence during a similar protest at the bishops' conference in Baltimore three years ago. That event drew about 1,000 people.

This year's rally, planned for Nov. 16, has an expected crowd of 3,000 people.


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