An Idaho family that won a four-year legal challenge against its neighborhood over its elaborate Christmas decoration was targeted because of their faith, details from the trial revealed.
A North Idaho jury awarded Jeremy and Kristy Morris $75,000 in their lawsuit against the West Hayden States First Addition Homeowners Association at the U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene. The HOA engaged in religious discrimination, violating the federal Fair Housing Act, the jury ruled.
Details that emerged during the trial, which took place late October, have highlighted the extent of the religious discrimination the family faced.
The Morris family is known for putting on extravagant, five-day Christmas celebrations, consisting of bright lights, hymns, decorations, live music, animals and actors who perform the Nativity.
The couple, who pay for the entire presentation themselves, have said that theirs is a message of faith. With free food and drinks, the show attracts thousands of visitors each year and raises money for local charities, including for children battling cancer.
Jeremy Morris told the Couer d'Alene Press that the trouble began after the family decided to move to a new home in Idaho in 2015. The family had been open about their intention to continue with their big Christmas celebrations —which he called his "ministry" to the public — but received a letter from the HOA board that cited neighborhood rules about lighting, traffic, sound. The letter also addressed religion:
"I am somewhat hesitant 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 … 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 Couer d'Alene Press obtained an earlier draft of the letter that was discovered during the trial, which contained more anti-religious undertones.
That particular draft read: "I am somewhat hesitant to bring up the fact that some of our residents are avowed atheists and I don’t even want to think of the problems that could bring up … we do not wish to become entwined in any expensive litigation to enforce long-standing rules and regulations and fill our neighborhood with the riff-raff you seemed to attract over by WalMart … Grouse Meadows indeed!!! We don’t allow ‘those kind’ in our neighborhood.”
The letter was written by a number of people on the HOA board, Morris said. The father-of-three, who is a lawyer, proceeded with the lawsuit on the grounds that the family's religious freedom rights were being obstructed.
A neighbor, Angie Cox, had also testified, according to Couer d'Alene Press, that when she asked Jennifer Scott, who was heading the HOA, whether the matter was really about the Morris family breaking rules or not wanting the family in the neighborhood, Scott responded, "We just don’t want him here."
Spokesman-Review columnist Shawn Vestal criticized the family and "Christians picking fights over imagined minor slights." He argued, "Morris’ victimhood was planned and plotted, right down to his intentions to call in air strikes from the conservative media’s grievance machine."
The Morrises, who have been harassed, have insisted that their purpose is to live out their faith, however, and following their lawsuit victory, said that they could consider 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,” Morris said. “We’re looking forward. We’re positive. We’re excited.”
HOA, which filed counterclaims in the case, said through attorney Peter Smith that it is looking forward "to seeing the final result once this case works its way through the court system.”