By Aaron Earls
For several years, Jeremy and Kristy Morris ran a Christmas light show and program at their home, but after moving into a new neighborhood they encountered a Grinch-filled homeowners’ association.
After a four-year legal battle, a North Idaho jury awarded the couple $75,000, concluding that the HOA discriminated against the Morrises in part because of their Christian faith.
In 2014, the family contacted the West Hayden States First Addition Homeowners Association about potentially moving into the neighborhood and their plans to continue their Christmas event.
The five-day celebration drew thousands of people for lights, music, and a Christmas message about the birth of Jesus. The Morrises didn’t charge admission but collected donations to be given to local cancer charities.
After reading the HOA’s regulations, the Morrises thought their event would be allowed. The association, however, disagreed.
The HOA board of directors wrote a letter to the family, saying they would have to give up their planned Christmas celebration if they moved into the neighborhood.
“It’s not the intention of the Board to discourage you from becoming part of our great neighborhood, but we do not wish to become entwined in any expensive litigation to enforce long standing rules and regulations and fill our neighborhood with the hundreds of people and possible undesirables,” the letter reads.
In addition, the HOA brought up the faith of the family and their desire to share that through their Christmas event. “And finally, I am somewhat hesitant to in bringing up the fact that some of our residents are non-Christians or of another faith. And I don’t even want to think of the problems that could bring up.”
A previous version of the letter, which was discovered as evidence in the trial, mentioned some of the residents being “avowed atheists” and that the Christmas program would therefore cause problems. The previous draft also dismissed the people who would come to such an event as “riff-raff” and stated, “We don’t allow ‘those kind’ in our neighborhood.”
Critics claimed the Morrises planned the controversy to construct a “War on Christmas” narrative and pointed to Jeremy Morris contacting Fox News after the disagreement began.
Morris rejects that theory and told the Spokesman-Review his email to Fox News was a “late-night decision” and not part of a significant plan.
“The only media I ever, ever, ever contacted, that is to say reached out to, was one time with Fox News,” he said. “I sent an email that was probably five sentences. And one of their reporters called me.”
After his legal victory, Morris said the money will be used to help the family move from the neighborhood to a new location, which will have additional room for their Christmas event.
“Our family will live wherever we want to live to spread the message of Jesus Christ and the birth of our Savior,” he told the Spokesman-Review. “We’re looking forward. We’re positive. We’re excited.”
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.