The National Association of Realtors has officially been pulled into a months-long legal battle between the Missoula Organization of Realtors and Missoula pastor and Realtor Brandon Huber, who faces expulsion from the local real estate group after stopping his church’s donations to the Missoula Food Bank over their support of LGBTQ Pride Month and allegedly sharing anti-LGBTQ sentiments.
Court documents filed with the Missoula District Court on Dec. 17 now list NAR as a defendant in the lawsuit, which claims NAR’s hate speech policy is too vague to be enforced and NAR and MOR are unlawfully punishing Huber for exercising the rights given to him under the Montana Human Rights Act, which “makes it an unlawful discriminatory practice to deny a person access to or membership or participation in a multiple listing service [or] real estate brokers’ organization because of religion.”
Huber’s attorney Matthew Monforton told Inman they added NAR to the case because their “bylaws state that local affiliates like the Missoula Organization of Realtors must enforce NAR’s ethics code or be expelled.” Furthermore, he said, NAR is responsible for guiding local affiliates’ enforcement of ethics violations through case interpretations that are passed at the organization’s midyear conferences.
The amended court filing zeroed in on NAR Case No. 10-9, which is based on the real-life comments of a former Keller Williams agent who used biblical scriptures to back his opinion that “homosexuals and lesbians are murderers.” After reviewing case Case No. 10-9, NAR’s Professional Standards Interpretations and Procedures Advisory Board ruled agents cannot use religion as an excuse for disparaging or discriminatory behavior.
“That person believed that to be a scripturally-justified statement,” committee chair Matt Difanis said of Case No. 10-9. “That doesn’t mean that as Realtors that’s a safe harbor.”
“As Realtors who have a legal and ethical obligation to make sure the housing market is open to everyone, particularly all of those enumerated Article 10 protected classes, the real analysis is if you get to something that is that offensive that rises to that level, it’s very hard to argue that a member of the LGBTQ community isn’t going to feel like the real estate market options just shrank,” he added. “We can’t have a blanket exemption for ‘if you quote this, you absolutely have no liability,’ or if you cite religion that that suddenly gives you a safe harbor no matter how offensive the behavior or the language is.”
Monforton said the Professional Standards Interpretations and Procedures Advisory Board’s case interpretation unfairly places Christian Realtors behind the eight ball, where any of their statements can be misconstrued as hate speech.
“[The filing] also recites statements made by the chairman of NAR’s Professional Standard Committee in May 2021 that simply reading scripture in a church can result in a violation of NAR’s Code of Ethics,” he told Inman in reference to a question posed at the May 2021 midyear Professional Standards Interpretations and Procedures Advisory Board meeting. “This is an admission that religious bigotry is now a formal policy of the National Association of Realtors.”
Huber’s battle with MOR began in August when an anonymous Clinton resident filed a discrimination claim with the association regarding Huber’s decision to pull his church’s support of the Missoula Food Bank due to the organization’s decision to include an LGBTQ+ Pride Month insert with the free lunches it distributed to local families.
The insert, Huber claimed, went against his beliefs as a Christian and the biblical principles he teaches his congregants. “Clinton Community Church wants our community to know that we love and support each and every one of you, no matter your background or where you are in life,” he said in a letter to his congregation. “As a 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.”
In the letter, Huber also announced the launch of the Clinton Community Church pantry, which served more than 680 free lunches in July and August. However, the pantry’s operations came to an abrupt stop when MOR began investigating the complaint, which also alleged Huber made anti-LGBTQ statements on social media.
“[Huber] cannot separate his religious bias from his entire person and will continue to be inherently biased against the LGBTQIAS+ community in any and all circumstances,” the complaint read. “[A]ll of [Pastor Huber’s] comments about gays being an abomination, and defilement of scripture were taken down. I can only hope that someone else screenshotted it.”
MOR’s hearing panel was set to review Huber’s case in December; however, the lawsuit has prevented MOR from making a decision about Huber’s fate, which could include expulsion and a $5,000 fine. Although Huber is still a licensed Realtor with Windermere Missoula, he has not made a sale since August.
As the lawsuit is primed to drag on well into 2022, NAR said they are confident the law will rule in their and MOR’s favor.
“We are currently reviewing the amended lawsuit, but upon initial review, the allegations contain numerous inaccuracies regarding the National Association of Realtors’ policies on hate speech as set forth in Article 10 of NAR’s Code of Ethics,” NAR Vice President of Communications Mantill Williams told Inman. “NAR and the Missoula Organization of Realtors have a deep commitment to non-discrimination.”
“NAR’s rules are administered locally,” he added. “When a complaint is filed with a local Realtor organization, such as 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. Discriminatory conduct, including hate speech, is directly contrary to who Realtors are and should not be tolerated in any profession. Both NAR and MOR are confident this practice will withstand judicial scrutiny.”
A hearing date has yet to be set.
Read the full amended filing below: