An Our America poll recently found that 73% of Americans support protecting religious freedom against the government taking or limiting how anyone practices their religion. The poll is not surprising as many studies show that American adults are far more religious than others in wealthy nations.
A brief look at history – and even in many parts of the modern world – makes it clear that governments have a track record of persecuting religious minorities. From that, we have learned how important it is to protect religious freedom.
When Americans hear about the Soviet Union and Nazi government’s persecution and genocide of Jewish people, they respond in anger and disgust. Similarly, there is an almost universal condemnation of Chinese internment camps where countless Uyghur people, who are mostly Muslim, are being tortured by the Chinese government. That is still happening today.
But, religious freedom is often much more nuanced than the extreme persecution mentioned above. Sometimes, discrimination doesn’t even come from the government, but by institutions which can deprive religious people of their right to work. It might be a subtler form of discrimination, but it is still discrimination and cannot be accepted.
Take for example the case of Pastor Brandon Hubber who is both a local religious leader and a realtor in Montana. As a religious leader, he chose to pass out flyers at a community event which expressed his church’s stance on same sex marriage.
While Hubber did this on his own time and it was unaffiliated with his profession, his local organization of realtors fined him $5,000 and ordered him to undergo training. Hubber refused to comply with either punishment and was kicked out of the organization which effectively prevents him from continuing to work as a realtor.
Many defenders of the organization claim that as a private organization, the Missoula Organization of Realtors has every right to make its own rules and determine the conduct of its members. This is fair enough. After all, freedom of assembly – or association – is a right covered in the First Amendment alongside the freedoms of religion and speech.
However, the problem begins as this is an example of an organization which was essentially monopolizing the market of realtors. Because without being part of the organization, Hubber has lost access to listing services which are necessary to continue his work as a realtor. He couldn’t simply join another organization or continue to work without one.
While Montana is considering a law to make the listing services open to all and not just the members of the organization, that solution is contrary to the idea of freedom and does nothing to fix the underlying problem. It does not fix the underlying issue of the monopolization of the realtor market.
A better solution would be to allow for multiple realtor associations to work and compete against one another. If the Missoula Organization of Realtors wants to adopt rules which reflect its values but which can also be seen as anti-Christian by some, that should be their prerogative as a private organization.
However, that should not prevent a group of Christian realtors, like Hubber, to rally with his peers to form their own board which adopts its values. Then, prospective homebuyers and sellers can decide which board to support by giving them their business.
When it comes to protecting religion from the government monopoly type of organizations like realtor organizations, the solution is to choose more freedom for everyone.