In what some consider one of the most far-reaching social policy moves in the corporate world, the National Association of Realtors, called the nation’s largest trade organization, has revised its professional ethics code to ban “hate speech and harassing speech” by its 1.4 million members.
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…
NAR’s decision, allowing any member of the public to file a complaint, has alarmed other real estate agents, and also some legal and ethics experts, who say the hate speech ban’s vagueness is an invitation to censor controversial political opinions, especially on race and gender. While that’s not the association’s stated intention, the skeptics say their fears are justified by the hyperactive “cancel culture” online that has jettisoned hapless workers for posting “all lives matter” and objecting to gay marriage…
NAR’s hate speech policy is noteworthy because it sweeps up 1.4 million people under an ethics standard that explicitly places limits on private speech, to be adjudicated through formal procedures. The organization’s new policy provides an avenue for the NAR to investigate, fine – and potentially expel – real estate agents who insult, threaten or harass people or social groups based on race, sex, gender or other legally protected characteristics.
“It is taking something that’s been happening on a kind-of informal and occasional basis – indeed, people do sometimes end up losing jobs because of their political expression – and shifting it to something that’s institutionalized, that’s bureaucratized, and that’s being enforced through quasi-legal tribunals,” said Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor who specializes in the First Amendment.
Volokh said such policies pose significant risks for abuse, and should be assessed not for their good intentions but for their potential to misfire.
“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.”
In the current climate of cancel culture and vigilante justice on Twitter, where a single misdeed can become amplified into the defining act of one’s life, some real estate agents fear the new speech code will be used to censor agents who express disapproval of affirmative action, gay marriage, transgender pronouns, Black Lives Matter, undocumented immigrants or other politicized issues. Such concerns were validated last month by a federal judge who struck down an anti-discrimination speech code imposed on Pennsylvania lawyers, saying that the ban’s vagueness amounted to open season on politically unpopular opinions.