National Association of Realtors Board Moves to Control Professional and Private Speech of Members

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The board of directors of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has moved to direct both the professional and private speech of its members with a ban on what the board considers to be “hate speech and harassing speech.”

John Murawski of RealClearInvestigations reported the story on the wide-ranging new policy, announced a little over a week after Election Day, and reactions to it.

Based in Chicago, the board of directors of the NAR – which claims to be the world’s largest trade organization, with 1.4 million members – declared in a press statement it would be “making it a violation for Realtors to use harassing or hate speech toward any of the protected classes under Article 10 of NAR’s Code of Ethics.”

The “protected classes” include “race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“NAR’s Advisory Board recommended that its Code of Ethics apply to every action a Realtor® takes, whether personal or professional,” the announcement stated.

The board said its “rationale” in instituting the policy:

… directly flows from the requirement to not deny equal professional services or be parties to a plan to discriminate. Specifically, bias against protected classes revealed through the public posting of hate speech could result in REALTORS® not taking clients from certain protected classes or not treating them equally, which would lead to violations of the Fair Housing Act due to overt discrimination or disparate impact.

“I applaud NAR’s Board of Directors and our Professional Standards Committee for their efforts to raise the bar on the professionalism and private speech of America’s 1.4 million Realtors®,” NAR President Vince Malta, broker at Malta & Co., Inc., in San Francisco, said in the press statement, and added:

Combatting and overcoming bigotry and injustice starts with each of us. Realtors® today took tangible steps to ensure we are held to the highest possible standard while providing a mechanism of enforcement for those who violate our new policies.

Murawski noted in his report the scope of the new policy:

The sweeping prohibition applies to association members 24/7, covering all communication, private and professional, written and spoken, online and off. Punishment could top out at a maximum fine of $15,000 and expulsion from the organization.

“I was thrilled to hear it,” white lesbian Mary Wagner, a real estate agent in Buffalo, told Murawski. “I think it’s long overdue.”

The new policy has drawn the concern of others, nevertheless, since it allows any individual to file a complaint against a real estate agent, and could be used to censor debate and opinions on race, such as opposition to Black Lives Matter, and gender, such as criticism of men claiming to be transgender and pushing to compete against women in sports.

“The dam has broken and other organizations will look at this,” warned Robert Föehl, a professor of business ethics and business law at Ohio University.

“If this is good for real estate agents, why not attorneys, why not doctors?” Föehl told Murawski. “They’re going to be pressured to do what NAR has done. And that pressure is going to be very real, because what organization wants to argue they should allow hate speech by their members?”

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) law professor Eugene Volokh told Murawski the significance of the policy is that it is institutionalizing loss of jobs over political expression and enforcing that standard “through quasi-legal tribunals.”

“What we’re talking about is a new blacklist,” Volokh said. “One of the things that’s troubling about the National Association of Realtors’ position is that it is trying to deploy the organized economic power of this group in order to suppress dissenting political views among members.”

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