As you may recall, we have been defending a Christian real estate agent and his real estate firm since June 2009 regarding a complaint filed against them with the Virginia Fair Housing Board due to their use of Christian symbols and other Christian content on their website.
We are glad to report that our clients have entered a settlement agreement that upholds their right to continue to include Christian content on their website.
The fair housing complaint alleged that our clients engaged in a discriminatory housing practice under Virginia law because the real estate firms logo, which appears in numerous advertisements and on the firms website, includes the Christian fish symbol. The firms website also includes John 3:16 next to the Christian fish symbol. The 'About Us' page of the website explains that the real estate agent and his wife are ordained Christian ministers and describes the firm as a local Christian business. The page also notes that the firm donates money to a Christian non-profit missions organization.
My earlier report on this case is posted here.
Although the firms website and print advertisements include disclaimers stating that the firm and its agents do not discriminate on the base of race, religion, or other prohibited bases, the complaint alleged that the Christian content on the website indicated an illegal preference based on religion in violation of the Virginia Fair Housing Law. Virginia law makes it illegal to publish any advertisement or statement regarding the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates a preference based on race, religion, sex, etc.
We filed an answer to the complaint that stated: While the ACLJ fully supports the Virginia Fair Housing Law, the federal Fair Housing Act, and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution dictates that these laws may not be interpreted so broadly as to prohibit a wide range of non-discriminatory religious expression. A proper application of these statutes ensures ample access to housing for members of all religious faiths without infringing upon the right to express ones religious beliefs in a non-discriminatory manner.
In addition, our answer explained that there was no suggestion that the real estate firm or its agents actually turned away any potential client, buyer, seller, landlord, or tenant due to his or her religion. The answer added: There is simply no basis for deriving any discriminatory intent or meaning from the advertisements at issue here. A real estate logo alongside a Christian fish symbollike a picture of a realtor wearing a cross necklace or a yarmulkesends a descriptive message about the realtor, not about the kind of client, seller, or renter the realtor would prefer or not prefer to have. Use of the Christian fish symbol for self-identification, without more, is entirely unrelated to a demonstration of preference or discrimination.
After our answer was filed, we discussed the complaint with Fair Housing investigators on several occasions. The case was eventually added to the agenda for the January 2010 meeting of the Fair Housing Board. We then discussed the complaint with the Virginia Attorney Generals office and reached an agreement that will allow our clients to keep the Christian content on their website, including the Christian fish symbol, "John 3:16" and the discussion of our clients Christian background.
Our clients were very pleased with this outcome of this case.