Realtor panel finds Clinton pastor violated ethics for ‘hate speech,’ but pastor to appeal

By: - July 27, 2022 6:45 pm

A Missoula Organization of Realtors hearing panel found realtor and Pastor Brandon Huber violated a prohibition on hate speech in its Code of Ethics, but Huber's lawyer said he will appeal the decision. (Keila Szpaller/The Daily Montanan)

A Clinton pastor and Realtor who has clashed with a local and national realtors group over allegations he engaged in hate speech against LGBTQ people violated the industry’s Code of Ethics, according to a recent decision from a Missoula Organization of Realtors hearing panel.

“Although this is the respondent’s first violation of the Code, these violations are considered very serious and based upon a disregard for the Code of Ethics,” said the decision filed with a July 27 court document.

The panel said Brandon Huber’s social media post noting an event at his church would “expose the LGBTQ Agenda that Controls our Lives and Kills our Liberty” violated a provision against discrimination in the realtors’ Code of Ethics. 

Huber, however, has argued the Realtors are trampling on his religious freedom, and Wednesday, his lawyer said Huber will not be paying a $5,000 fine or completing a diversity training the panel recommended the Board of Directors impose as sanctions.

“Pastor Huber will never enroll in the Realtors’ woke, anti-Christian ‘diversity’ program,” said Bozeman lawyer Matthew Monforton, who represents Huber.

Missoula Organization of Realtors CEO Jim Bachand declined to comment on the outcome of the hearing, citing confidentiality established in the Code of Ethics. The panel also found Huber to be in violation of breaching confidentiality, contrary to the Code of Ethics, when he disclosed information in the ethics complaint through a court filing and “online newsletter tool.”

The conclusion from the ethics hearing is the most recent outcome in Huber’s fight with the Missoula Organization of Realtors and National Association of Realtors.

In an unsuccessful case filed earlier this year in Missoula County District Court, Huber alleged the Realtors groups were violating the Montana Human Rights Act by subjecting him to an ethics hearing based on his “protected religious activities.”

Huber filed the complaint after he said his Clinton Community Church would break ties with the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center because of its support for LGBTQ people, and a third party filed the complaint against him citing the new policy against hate speech (see below) enacted by the National Association of Realtors in 2020 and followed by the local group.

In a ruling from the bench, Judge Jason Marks said the allegations of religious discrimination were premature, and Huber first needed to run through the professional organization’s administrative process before bringing his claims to court. 

Although the panel concluded Huber had crossed the ethics code with one post, it also found he was in the clear on another allegation.

The decision said the Professional Standards Committee Hearing Panel didn’t condone Huber’s actions when he broke ties with the Food Bank and posted a letter to social media explaining he believed a coloring page from the nonprofit for children’s lunches went against Biblical doctrine. However, it said the panel did not find that action was a violation of its Code of Ethics.

The recent decision from the Missoula Organization of Realtors panel notes its judgment isn’t final and is subject to an appeal by Huber, and Monforton said his client is likely to pursue that option. But he doesn’t expect relief.

“We can appeal that decision to their Board of Directors, and I imagine we probably will, but the fix is in,” Monforton said. “They’ve undertaken this action because they hate Pastor’s Huber’s religious faith, and they’re doing it to penalize him for it.”

Monforton also said he and his client are contemplating their next steps in the justice system given their concerns about the hearing. Monforton said the ethics hearing took place on July 19, it ended at 2:30 p.m., and all five panelists signed off on a decision against Huber the same afternoon.

“Given the religious basis of Pastor Huber’s speech and the lack of any real deliberation by the ethics panel, the realtors’ decision was clearly based upon anti-Christian bigotry,” Monforton said.

Huber also is seeking a legislative solution. Last month, Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, submitted a draft bill, “Brandon’s Law,” that aims to protect real estate agents from religious discrimination, protect their free speech rights, and ensure they can access a real estate database even if they don’t join the Realtors organization or pay dues.

Currently, if the Missoula Organization of Realtors imposes a fine for Huber’s ethics violations and he refuses to pay it, Monforton said he will lose access to that database, and, therefore, he could lose his livelihood.

Code of Ethics

Earlier court documents cited the hate speech prohibition by the National Association of Realtors and noted it applies to all realtor speech, not just work related speech: “Realtors must not use harassing speech, hate speech, epithets, or slurs based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” The code’s appendix defines “hate speech” as that “intended to insult, offend or intimidate a person because of some trait (as race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability).”

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.