A conservative Roman Catholic media outlet seeking to stage a rally during a U.S. bishops’ meeting in Baltimore claims city officials canceled the event because they disapprove of its religious message. The city says the gathering poses a threat to public safety, claiming the fringe group cheered on rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol in January.
The event planners are asking a federal judge to decide whether the city is trampling on their First Amendment rights. U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander heard testimony Thursday from survivors of clergy abuse who want to speak at the “prayer rally” that St. Michael’s Media planned to hold on Nov. 16 at a city-owned waterfront pavilion.
An event advertisement touts speeches by former Donald Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon and far-right agitator Milo Yiannopoulos, who testified at Thursday’s hearing. Yiannopoulos said he wants to speak at the rally because he was raped by a Catholic priest and wants to encourage other abuse survivors to “confront the enablers and abusers.”
The Associated Press does not typically name individuals who are victims of sexual abuse, but Yiannopoulos agreed to be identified and said he has written about what happened in the past.
The city said Yiannopoulos’ speaking engagements attract counterprotesters and have led to violence and property damage. It also said Bannon “regularly calls for violence against government officials,” noting that Twitter banned his account last year after he called for beheading Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
Yiannopoulos testified that he has adopted a softer, less caustic tone to his speeches in recent years and doubts any counterprotesters would show up at an event like the one that St. Michael’s wants to hold.
“The risk seems to me near zero,” said Yiannopoulos, now a paid columnist for St. Michael’s Media. “There’s no one coming to protest me these days, which is a great relief.”
Michigan-based St. Michael’s Media, also known as Church Militant, sued the city, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and City Solicitor James Shea on Sept. 13. The far-right digital media outlet says it publishes news stories on its website about the Catholic Church and often criticizes church leadership.