Realtor sues real estate board over investigation into Bible verses on webpage

(Photo: Flickr Commons/Joe Gratz)
(Photo: Flickr Commons/Joe Gratz)

A Christian realtor is suing the Virginia Real Estate Board, saying she felt compelled to resign after being investigated for a fair housing complaint related to sharing her religious beliefs on a business website and email signatures. 

In the state lawsuit filed in Richmond, Hadassah Hubbard Carter is claiming that her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by the VREB, which filed a Fair Housing Act complaint against her in August 2017.   

Carter is represented by the American Center for Law & Justice, a Christian conservative legal organization run by Jay Sekulow, who also serves on President Trump’s legal team. 

The lawsuit claims that the VREB’s complaint from 2017 accused her of violating a Virginia Fair Housing Law provision regulating unlawful speech.

In the initial complaint, VREB cited Carter’s email signature line, which read: “For Faith and Freedom, Jesus loves you and with God all things are possible.” 

Additionally, Carter was cited for the fact that the personal statement on her webpage quoted the New Testament verse John 3:16, which reads: "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

The VREB complaint also expressed concerns that Carter’s biography and the statement on her business website promoted her belief that God blessed her in the realty profession and her goal to put “God first.” 

The VREB complaint contested that Carter had used "words or statements associated with Christianity, indicating a preference or limitation based on religion, in violation of the Virginia Fair Housing Law." 

According to the lawsuit, Carter and her lawyer sought to resolve the issue through communication with VREB. However, VREB allegedly refused to permit Carter to “make any religious statements on her business website" or "her email signature.”

While the complaint against Carter was pending, she was ordered to remove the Christian-related content from her website by Kathleen Edwards, a real estate broker who Carter served as an agent for while working for Keller Williams in Midlothian. 

The VREB questioned Carter in October 2017 and did not render a decision on the complaint for over 260 days, according to the lawsuit. 

Furthermore, the lawsuit claims that the investigation never found any acts of discrimination committed by Carter since she served clients from various religious backgrounds. 

In May 2018, Carter was informed about a conciliation agreement between the firm and the VREB. Under the agreement, the broker vowed to prevent its employees from posting religious statements in any communications or advertising material. 

According to the lawsuit, the agreement also required the real estate company to report any individual who resigns from their position due to religious material and the name of the new broker they work for to VREB.

As a result of the restriction, Carter resigned from the company. 

“Ms. Edwards and Michael Maloney told Ms. Carter that the VREB warned them that they were going to track Ms. Carter's license, and will file another complaint against her if she re-adds her previous religious statements to her communications and website,” the lawsuit reads. 

Since the initial complaint was filed against Carter, she referred her clients to other real estate agents. According to the legal document, Carter “fears to make religious statements in connection with her realty practice because of possible action by the board.”

“Because of the restrictions placed on her free speech, Ms. Carter has not actively practiced realty since the complaint was filed against her in August of 2017,” the lawsuit says. 

According to the ACLJ, Carter tried to defend one of her clients from discrimination in a fair housing dispute when VREB first lodged the complaint against her. 

“The agency saw Hadassah’s email signature and decided to take action against her instead. It’s shocking,” an ACLJ press release reads. “While the Virginia Real Estate Board has dropped its initial complaint against Hadassah, at the same time it forced her then employer to enter into an agreement to monitor her and report back on her religious expression.”

The ACLJ argues that the U.S. Supreme Court has “made it clear” that the actions taken by the VREB are “blatantly unconstitutional” violations of the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, the lawsuit claims that the VREB’s actions are violations of state law as well. 

ACLJ argues that the 2011 decision in the case of Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc. held that laws regulating commercial speech can’t discriminate based on viewpoint. 

“This is exactly what the Real Estate Regulatory Boards are doing when they prohibit realtors from talking about God,” the ACLJ release argues. “In our lawsuit on Hadassah’s behalf, we’re seeking to get a declaration that Hadassah was justly exercising her First Amendment rights and the board’s actions were unconstitutional. We’re also seeking a permanent injunction against the Virginia Board of Realtors to prevent them from doing to anyone else what they did to Hadassah.”

A VREB spokesperson told The Christian Post the agency is "unable to offer comment as the matter is in ongoing litigation," adding that VREB is represented by the state attorney general's office in such matters. 

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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