A Christian realtor in Virginia is in danger of losing her livelihood for putting Christian messages on her business cards, email and website.
Hadassah Hubbard Carter is a licensed real estate agent in good standing in the Commonwealth of Virginia. She’s also an unabashed Christian. The state governmental agency that oversees real estate licensing is the Virginia Real Estate Board (VREB).
Through some email correspondence Ms. Carter sent to VREB, the government agency noticed that Ms. Carter included some religious references at the end. Specifically, her signature line includes the phrase, “For Faith and Freedom, Jesus loves you, and with God all things are possible.”
Ms. Carter also references her faith on her business website, including mentions of John 3:16, the Golden Rule and comments about her commitment to God.
None of this sat well with VREB, who, to the shock and dismay of Ms. Carter, initiated a complaint against her, claiming she had violated the Virginia Fair Housing Law (VFHL).
The VFHL, like the federal version, is designed to prevent discrimination in the housing market on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, elderliness, familial status or handicap. Also like the federal version, the VFHL prohibits advertising that indicates, with respect to the sale or rental of real estate, a preference, limitation or discrimination relating to any of those statuses.
The obvious problem that the federal version seeks to prevent are signs or messages that say or imply things like “Only people of race A,” or “Only people of religion B” etc., can buy or rent this property, or obtain a mortgage, or work with a certain realtor. To a great extent, the Virginia law mirrors the federal law.
Fair enough. Ms. Carter supports and values such principles of nondiscrimination. She serves people of all races, religions and ethnicities, and doesn’t advertise otherwise.
However, unlike the federal version, the VFHL contains this additional restriction in its advertising provisions, which Carter and her attorneys at the American Center for Law and Justice say crosses a constitutional line:
“The use of words or symbols associated with a particular religion, national origin, sex, or race shall be prima facie evidence of an illegal preference under this chapter which shall not be overcome by a general disclaimer.”
In other words, when a Christian realtor in Virginia puts a Bible verse on their business card, or an encouraging word from Scripture in their email signature line, or on their business website, that act is automatically considered (“prima facie”) discrimination against potential clients. That’s bad enough. But the law also says that you cannot have the opportunity to deny any discriminatory intent (“shall not be overcome by a general disclaimer”).
Not only are you presumed guilty, but you’re not allowed to deny it. And you may end up losing your real estate license and your livelihood. No wonder Ms. Carter is bringing a lawsuit.
There’s something egregiously wrong with what is happening to her. She has not been able to work for over two years as negotiations with the VREB have dragged on. And even when it did decide to drop its complaint against her, it ordered her current real estate employer to keep tabs on her business cards, emails and website until the end of 2023. VREB even required Carter’s employer to inform it if and when she resigned from her current position with the company, so they could track her to her next job.
Feeling the chill yet?
The First Amendment doesn’t allow the Virginia legislature to prohibit all religious speech based on the faulty logic that putting a religious message on a business card or website might possibly be received, even incorrectly, as the intent to discriminate. It’s a vast overreach, reaching and prohibiting innocent speech not meant to be discriminatory, and it’s also vague in that no one can easily determine what “words or symbols associated with a particular religion” might be. Both failings are fatal for the constitutionality of the Virginia statute.
Ms. Carter is not willing to cave to the strong-armed censorship of the Commonwealth of Virginia. We hope and pray that as the courts get involved, reason and basic First Amendment law will prevail.
The case is Hadassah Hubbard Carter v. Virginia Real Estate Board.