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Conservative Catholic group’s First Amendment fight with Baltimore continues

St. Michael’s Media founder and CEO Michael Voris, left, and associates walk into the federal courthouse on Sept. 30, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

The First Amendment dispute between the city of Baltimore and a conservative Catholic group hasn’t ended, even though the group ultimately won the right to hold a protest at the MECU Pavilion in November.

The group, which goes by St. Michael’s Media in court filings but is also known as Church Militant, remains locked in a tense legal fight with the city.

The latest filings explore whether St. Michael’s Media can file an amended complaint that would add the company that manages the MECU Pavilion for the city and seek permanent injunctive relief to prevent the city from blocking future rallies.

The city moved to block the Nov. 16 “prayer rally,” which was scheduled to include incendiary right-wing speakers Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopolous, on the grounds that the event might incite violence and counterprotests in downtown Baltimore. Bannon ultimately did not appear at the event, according to court filings.

St. Michael’s Media scheduled the event to occur during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting at the Waterfront Marriott Hotel.

U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander and, later, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, found in favor of St. Michael’s Media and ruled on First Amendment grounds that the city could not block the rally or interfere with negotiations between Church Militant and MECU Pavilion’s management company, SMG.

The rally took place without violence.

Now, St. Michael’s Media wants to expand its federal complaint to include SMG, which merged with another company to form ASM Global in 2019. The company did not return a request for comment Wednesday.

St. Michael’s Media claims in court filings that SMG acted as a “glove over the hand” of the city that unconstitutionally worked to impede the prayer rally at the city’s urging.

“The city cannot use SMG as a proxy to do its ‘dirty work’ for it and to evade the first amendment,” St. Michael’s Media lawyer Marc Randazza wrote. “Similiarly, SMG cannot be a participant in such a scheme and avoid accountability.”

The city argued that St. Michael’s Media’s proposed changes to the complaint are futile and asked Hollander not to allow an amendment.

“It is not in the interest of justice to allow Plaintiff the repeated opportunity to attempt to conjure a cognizable and legitimate injury in order to pursue and, indeed, extend this litigation,” wrote Renita L. Collins, chief solicitor for the city.

The city also objected to the request from St. Michael’s Media for a permanent injunction “to hold ‘rallies’ in the City of Baltimore without any limitation on size, location, subject matter, security measures, contractual considerations, commercial viability, or time period,” Collins wrote.

Hollander has yet to rule on the dispute, which is docketed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore at St. Michael’s Media, Inc. v. The Mayor and City Council of Baltimore et al, 1:21-cv-02337.