Realtor Board Backs Down From Attack on Cross in Christian Realtor's Advertising

Some weeks ago, the ACLJ was contacted by a long-time realtor who had been warned by his local realtor association board that the use of a cross in his realtor advertisements might create an issue under federal law and violate nondiscrimination policies. He was being pressured to remove the cross. The cross apparently referred to by the local governing board which he regularly uses is actually the logo for the Christian Real Estate Network (CREN). CREN is a referral network that seeks to “assist families [in] the buying and selling process by referring them to Christian agents that they can trust.” Importantly, as CREN makes clear on its website, one does not have to be a Christian to be a member of CREN. By using this symbol, our client is signaling to people that in addition to all of the other licenses he holds, he is also a part of this Christian realtor network. This is no different than the referral networks of almost all professions, including for example, the Christian Legal Society for lawyers. Nothing nefarious. Nothing illegal. Nothing discriminatory. That's not how the local realtor board saw it. The policies purportedly relied upon by the local governing board for the suggestion that such a symbol might be discriminatory included the Fair Housing Act’s provision that makes it unlawful “[t]o discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of . . . religion . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b) , and NAR’s Code of Ethics , Section 10.3 which similarly provides that “REALTORS® shall not print, display or circulate any statement or advertisement with respect to selling or renting of a property that indicates any preference, limitations or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” In sum, the cross – in the eyes of the local governing board – may communicate an intent to discriminate and, thus, should be removed. This is not the first time a realtor has been pressured to remove a religious symbol from all advertisements or face a charge of discrimination. In the case of Commonwealth v. Lotz Realty Co . , 376 S.E.2d 54 (Va. 1989), the state of Virginia challenged a realtor’s use of a caricature of a fish encompassing the words “Jesus Is Coming," and the slogan “Christians Tell A Friend” on the realtor’s letterhead. The state argued that the religious symbols “appeal particularly to persons of Christian religious beliefs and which would indicate and have indicated to persons of other religious beliefs that the respondents have a preference for dealing with or would limit their dealings to persons of Christian religious beliefs in violation of the code.” 376 S. E. 2d at 55. Fortunately, the court rejected the state’s arguments and concluded that the religious symbols used by Lotz Realty are not prohibited by the non-discrimination clause. The court held that Lotz Realty “may lawfully utilize the said [letterhead] advertisement in connection with their real estate business.” Id . at 56. Similarly, and following the case in Virginia, HUD issued guidelines affirming a relator’s use of religious symbols so long as the symbol was accompanied by a general disclaimer. Notably, HUD explained that it was issuing the guidelines to curb the actions of those outside of HUD who applied the FHA in an unreasonable manner in an attempt to extend liability for advertisements to circumstances that did not apply. Such was the case here. Accordingly, the ACLJ prepared a letter to National Association of Realtors (NAR), as well as to the local governing board, contesting any suggestion that our client’s use of the cross was prohibited and/or demonstrated any ill motive or intent to discrimination. We also explained that such a broad application of any non-discrimination policy to exclude any realtor’s use of religious symbols would stifle speech and religious liberties – treasured freedoms in our country. In response to our letter, NAR informed us that it would not interpret its policy to exclude use of the cross logo and referred us to the local governing board. The local board, following receipt of our letter and discussion at a board meeting, has verbally indicated no desire to challenge the ACLJ on this issue and force removal of the cross from our client’s advertisements. While we are still waiting to receive that decision in writing before we consider this situation completely resolved, for the time being, our client is free to continue the use of the cross logo on his advertisements. Sadly, this is not the first time the ACLJ has been forced to take action to defend Christian real estate professionals for using Christian symbols or Bible verses in their marketing materials. We’ve told you that we represent a Virginia realtor who received a complaint from the Virginia Real Estate Board for using John 3:16 on her website and saying, “Jesus loves you,” in her emails. We filed a lawsuit and are aggressively battling the Virginia Real Estate Board in court in this case. The ACLJ has a long history of defending the constitutional rights of Christians in business. No person of faith should be denied their free speech rights or the lawful expression of their faith. Now more than ever, we must fight for and defend the constitutional rights of Christian businessmen and women against anti-Christian discrimination.