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Clinton pastor sues Missoula Realtors, says wrongfully accused of hate speech

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A Missoula County District Court lawsuit says a Clinton pastor was wrongfully accused of hate speech after he opted not to partner with the Missoula Food Bank over their use of LGBTQ+ pride inserts during a lunch program. 

Brandon Huber, a Missoula County resident, serves as the lead pastor for the Clinton Community Church. He has been a member of the Missoula Organization of Realtors since August 2020 and works as a part-time agent for Windermere Real Estate in Missoula.

The complaint, filed Wednesday, says the Realtors organization found that Huber's actions violated their hate speech policy.

Huber’s church had partnered with the Missoula Food Bank for the lunch event, known as “Kids Eat Free,” for several years, the lawsuit said. The church found out about the pride inserts in June of this year, determined they were “contrary to the Church’s teachings” and opted to start its own community lunch program.

The inserts had “Pride” written on the front, along with “love always wins” and “love is love” messages.

Huber argues that his actions were not hate speech, saying “the Realtors’ hate-speech prohibition violated the Montana Constitution and is too vague under Montana contract law to be enforced.”

The church announced in a letter and a Facebook post on July 2 its reasoning for not partnering with the food bank, citing that the handouts went "against their biblical doctrine.” A few weeks later, on July 29, a Clinton resident filed an ethics complaint with the Grievance Committee of the Missoula Organization of Realtors.

The complaint says Huber "cannot separate his religious bias from his entire person and will continue to be inherently biased against the LGBTQIAS+ community in any and all circumstances," the lawsuit reads. 

After reviewing the complaint on Aug. 10, the MOR grievance committee said if it's accurate it constitutes "potentially unethical conduct." The hate speech prohibition was inserted into the National Association of Realtors ethics code in November 2020. The Missoula Organization of Realtors enforces the ethics code. 

The organization has ordered Huber to attend an ethics hearing, which is scheduled for Dec. 2, the lawsuit said. He could be assessed a $5,000 fine and have his membership terminated. 

Huber alleges he is being discriminated against for exercising his civil rights on account of his religious ideas, and argues the prohibitions are ambiguous, vague and without merit. He is represented by Bozeman-based attorney Matthew Monforton.

Jim Bachand, chief executive officer at the Missoula Organization of Realtors, said they were just recently made aware of the lawsuit and hadn’t had time to review it yet.

“We’re not going to comment at this time,” Bachand said.

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