The Missoula Organization of Realtors said this week it believes a new rule against “hate speech” from the National Association of Realtors will hold up in court, and it also said discriminatory conduct, including hate speech, “should not be tolerated in any profession.”
The local realtors group, a member of the national organization, issued the statement in response to a lawsuit filed by an MOR member alleging discrimination based on exercise of his religion. Plaintiff Brandon Huber, a realtor and Clinton pastor accused of hate speech by a community member, also alleges the new prohibition on hate speech by the realtors is too vague in contract law to be enforced and violates the Montana Constitution.
In the statement released Monday by chief executive officer Jim Bachand, the MOR defended its rule. The MOR noted the national association adopted a standard of practice, and as such, realtors are “prohibited from using harassing speech, hate speech, epithets or slurs based on based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”
The MOR also said it believes the rule is lawful: “As a local association of the National Association of Realtors, we take our role very seriously in upholding a rule such as this to ensure discrimination has no place among our realtors. Both NAR and the Missoula Organization of Realtors are confident this practice will withstand judicial scrutiny.
“When handling ethics complaints, MOR carefully reviews all matters and follows due process to ensure fairness to all involved parties. It will be up to the MOR hearing panel to determine whether any of the matters raised in the complaint constitute a violation based on the evidence presented.”
Huber filed the lawsuit Nov. 3 after a situation at the Clinton Community Church, where he is lead pastor, led to a grievance being filed against him with the realtors. According to the lawsuit, the church had opted out of distributing free lunches in partnership with the Missoula Food Bank this summer because the food bank had included an LGBTQ “Pride” coloring sheet with the lunches.
In a social media post, Huber explained the decision to congregants, according to the lawsuit: “This has been a great honor for us to be able to support the kids and families in our community with these meals throughout the summer months. This past week, we found printed material in the lunches that we were handing out that went against our Biblical doctrine. After conversations with the food bank, we have found that our beliefs and that of the Missoula Food Bank do not align. Due to this, Clinton Community Church has decided to end our partnership with the Missoula Food Bank effective today, July 2, 2021.”
Subsequently, a Clinton resident filed an ethics complaint against Huber with the MOR alleging he had engaged in “hate speech,” the lawsuit said. The lawsuit said the resident is not a member of the church or a real estate client of Huber’s.
In November 2020, the National Association of Realtors had added a “hate speech” prohibition to its ethics code, the lawsuit said, and it notes the local association, the MOR, made a preliminary finding that Huber violated that prohibition and must submit to an ethics hearing Dec. 2.
The lawsuit said he could be assessed a $5,000 fine as a result and have his membership privileges, such as access to the online database of real estate properties, suspended or terminated. The lawsuit notes access to that database, called the Multiple Listing Service, is a necessity for the job.
But the lawsuit argues the “hate speech” prohibition is too vague to be enforced and violates the Montana Constitution, and also that Huber’s statement was “not ‘hateful’ under any reasonable definition of that term.” In the social media post, Huber noted the position of the church: “We strive to show the love of Jesus in all we do throughout this community, while standing up for Biblical principles, Biblical truths, and our beliefs.”
Last week, the MOR had declined to comment on the matter, and its statement this week noted it still cannot comment on details of the case. However, the MOR also noted that no final decision has yet been made.
“MOR is unable to comment on the specifics of any pending ethics matter due to the confidentiality of such administrative proceedings,” the MOR said. “However, and despite statements in the media to the contrary, preliminary proceedings including determinations by the MOR Grievance Committee do not result in a finding that a member of MOR engaged in conduct in violation of an NAR Code of Ethics Standard of Practice. Rather, such a finding can only be made by a hearing panel at the conclusion of an ethics hearing if the evidence presented at said hearing in support of an alleged violation is clear, strong and convincing.”
The MOR also said the local association is overseeing the complaint process and will maintain privacy: “NAR’s rules are administered locally. When a complaint is filed with a local realtor organization, such as the Missoula Organization of Realtors (MOR), that alleges conduct in violation of the Realtor Code of Ethics or a Standard of Practice, the local association administers that complaint, including maintaining strict confidentiality concerning all such proceedings.”