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Conservative Catholic group finalizes contract after appeals court sides with it in First Amendment dispute

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has found in favor of a far-right Catholic group that wants to hold a prayer rally at the MECU Pavilion later this month over the objection of Baltimore city’s lawyers, who have cited concerns about violence and counterprotests.

In a brief decision Wednesday, the federal appeals court affirmed a lower court ruling that found on First Amendment grounds that the city could not block the rally or interfere with contract negotiations between the protest group and the company that manages the MECU Pavilion for the city, SMG.

Representatives of St. Michael’s Media said Thursday that the group had finally executed a contract with SMG after extensive legal wrangling.

SMG, which merged with another company to form ASM Global in 2019, did not immediately return a message requesting comment.

St. Michael’s Media founder and CEO Michael Voris said the rally will continue as planned. It is scheduled for Nov. 16.

“We are extremely thankful that both the trial and circuit courts clearly and immediately saw through the city’s and SMG’s scheme to deprive us of our First Amendment rights,” Voris said. “The rally to protect innocent victims and survivors from the evil of corrupt bishops will go forward.”

The group organizing the rally, which is scheduled to occur during the upcoming U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting, goes by St. Michael’s Media in court filings and is also known as Church Militant.

“It comes as no surprise to me at all,” Marc Randazza, an attorney who represents St. Michael’s Media, said of the 4th Circuit’s decision. “I think it would have come to nobody’s surprise who knows the first thing about the First Amendment, but apparently Baltimore is surprised.”

The ruling is the second major loss for the city, which appealed after U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander granted a preliminary injunction last month that allowed St. Michael’s Media to move forward with the prayer rally.

Cal Harris, a spokesperson for Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, said the city is disappointed by the decision and remains concerned about public safety during the rally.

“Protecting Baltimore residents and their property is our top priority; however, we will abide by the direction of the courts,” Harris said.

A spokesperson for the city did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

The rally was originally projected to have about 3,000 attendees and include Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopolous, both far-right pundits with a track record of hateful and incendiary comments, as planned speakers.

St. Michael’s Media Inc. claimed in its initial lawsuit that Baltimore City Solicitor James L. “Jim” Shea told the city’s events agent to cancel a contract that would have permitted the group to hold its protest at the MECU Pavilion, directly across from the bishop’s Fall General Assembly at the Waterfront Marriott Hotel.

The city claimed in court records that the far-right digital media outlet cheered on rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol in January that the Baltimore rally was canceled “out of a legitimate fear that it would incite violence in the heart of downtown Baltimore.”

This story has been updated to reflect that a contract was reached after initial publication.