In 2015, Jeremy Morris and his wife Kristy bought a house in Hayden, Idaho with the hope of making their giant Christmas display even larger. We’re talking tens of thousands of lights, carolers, a live Nativity scene, an actual camel, etc. It draws thousands of people over several nights, and that was a concern for the West Hayden Estates First Addition Homeowners Association (HOA).
In a letter sent to Morris, they noted the restriction on livestock (which Morris dismissed since the camel was only there for two hours a night), and traffic concerns (which Morris dismissed since a local church allowed people to park there and shuttle over to his house), and excessive noise and bright lights.
Morris eventually said it was all a big attempt to persecute him for his Christian beliefs. Because of course he did.
“This is an attack on people of faith,” he said.
If a lawsuit is filed, Morris said he intends to allege violations of federal fair housing laws that prohibit religious discrimination.
“I will take it as long and as far as it goes,” he said. “I will not back down.”
That was obviously an insane reaction given that no one had a problem with Christmas lights or a regular Nativity scene on the front lawn. The concern was essentially about one family’s takeover of an entire neighborhood.
The association never sued him. And in 2015 and 2016, he held his event — in 2016, he even had goats! But he blamed the HOA for harassing him — his neighbors called the police over what Morris said were “legally parked vehicles,” allegedly threw snowballs at buses, etc.
In 2017, he sued the HOA for $250,000 “for their shock, humiliation, embarrassment, inconvenience, and economic loss.”
Sadly, in 2018, a jury awarded the couple $75,000 saying that the HOA had indeed discriminated against them. It only fueled their Persecution Complex.
Reached by phone Monday, Jeremy Morris suggested the crux of the HOA’s complaint was rooted in religious discrimination veiled as a general complaint about nuisances. He said he was pleased the jury agreed, when they ruled unanimously on the four separate claims.
And now, even after the jury has ruled in favor, he said he and his wife plan to move from the neighborhood. The next piece of land, he said, will have more room for future Christmas programs, which he said have ballooned in popularity as a result of the media attention.
He’s also not ruling out the possibility of living in another HOA neighborhood.
“Our family will live wherever we want to live to spread the message of Jesus Christ and the birth of our savior,” he said. “We’re looking forward. We’re positive. We’re excited.”
At least this story has a happy ending.
Last Thursday, Idaho District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill reversed the jury’s decision.
He concluded the West Hayden States First Addition Homeowners Association did not discriminate against the couple, deciding the couple broke the association’s covenants, conditions and restrictions when they held two massive Christmas celebrations in 2015 and 2016.
“This case is simply different,” Winmill wrote in his decision filed Thursday. “Plaintiffs have failed to set forth facts that are a legally sufficient basis upon which a reasonable jury could conclude that the Homeowner’s Association violated … the Fair Housing Act.”
Winmill wrote that the board’s intent wasn’t to discriminate against Christians or Christmas, but rather to not make exceptions in the rules in favor of the holiday.
“Far from being intolerant, the January 2015 Letter’s religious reference was an attempt to respect religious pluralism,” Winmill wrote.
Specifically, witnesses at the trial said they were threatened by people in the neighborhood — but before the HOA could cross examine them, the court said the HOA wasn’t responsible for what non-HOA members did. In essence, the jury heard damning testimonies from nine people on Morris’ side — testimonies that likely prejudiced their thinking against the HOA — even though the court said the HOA wasn’t responsible for what happened to those people.
“In this case it is exceedingly unlikely that the jury was actually able to set aside the testimony of nine witnesses regarding threats they received from third parties,” Winmill wrote.
Common sense won the day. That $75,000 awarded was cut down to just $4. (Not a typo.) Still, an apoplectic Morris says he plans to appeal the decision. All this because he wanted to take over his neighborhood with his idea of Christmas and the HOA asked him not to be so damn annoying to the world.
It was never about religious discrimination.
By the way, a similar fight is going on in New Jersey. Because these people all think the world is out to get them.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Diane for the link)