MISSOULA — A Missoula-area pastor and part-time real estate agent has expanded his lawsuit against a Realtors group over accusations that he engaged in “hate speech” when he pulled out of a food-bank event this summer that was promoting gay rights.
Brandon Huber amended his lawsuit Friday in state District Court to include the National Association of Realtors as a defendant and to claim he’s being discriminated against because of his religious beliefs, a violation of the state Human Rights Act.
The lawsuit seeks to void a complaint filed against Huber this summer, alleging that he violated the Realtors’ code of ethics.
His expanded lawsuit said a national Realtors official said this spring that quoting scripture from the Bible could violate the code of ethics if it could be seen as “harassing speech, hate speech, epithets or slurs.”
“NAR’s Code of Ethics thus makes the recitation of bible verses subject to the code’s “hate speech” prohibition,” the suit said.
An attorney for the Realtors’ groups said he hadn’t yet reviewed the latest version of the complaint and that his clients would be responding in court, likely next month.
Huber sued the Missoula Organization of Realtors last month after it had begun a potential disciplinary procedure against him for violating the NAR’s Code of Ethics. The suit said the code is too vague to be enforced, and that Huber hadn’t engaged in anything that could be considered “hate speech.”
The Clinton church, 15 miles east of Missoula, had worked for several years with the Missoula Food Bank to distribute free lunches in the community, to any kids who need it. But in June, Huber discovered the lunches would include a flyer that celebrated PRIDE month, honoring the civil rights movement of the LGBTQ community.
He responded by writing an open letter to his congregation, saying the flyer was contrary to church teachings, and therefore the church would no longer partner with Missoula Food Bank to distribute the lunches. It said the church would still distribute free lunches on its own, and gave out 680 lawsuits, the suit said.
Several weeks later, a local citizen filed a complaint against Huber with the Missoula Realtors group, citing the National Realtors Association’s code of ethics that says 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 also says “hate speech” is “intended to insult, offend, intimidate a person because of some trait,” and applies to all facets of a Realtors’ life – not just his or her conduct while on the job.
Huber’s supporters also held a rally for him at his church on Nov. 17, attended by some Republican state lawmakers and candidates.