By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Earlier this month, a Federal Court jury awarded $75,000 to Jeremy and Kristy Morris in their lawsuit against their HOA.
The HOA lawsuit, filed January 2017, accused the HOA of anti-Christian religious discrimination.
The jury agreed that West Hayden Estates Homeowners’ Association violated the Fair Housing Act, with its discriminatory behavior.
The HOA board didn’t like Christmas
The ordeal began four years ago, when Jeremy and his wife were in the process of purchasing their current home in 2015.
While the house was under contract, members of the HOA board sent Jeremy and Kristy Morris a letter explaining why they disapproved of their plans for an annual Christmas light show.
Jeremy, an attorney, said that, upon review of covenants and resrictions, he saw no legal obstacles to continuing his holiday tradition of spreading the good news of Christmas with his annual holiday program.
So he and his wife decided to go through with the sale as planned.
However, soon after the family moved in and began to decorate their home for annual Christmas program, the HOA threatened to sue the homeowners.
That story received national attention, as a textbook example of what some have called “The War on Christmas.”
Here’s the KREM-2 News video from December 2015.
HOA pressures homeowners to end Christmas Program
Following national publicity, the HOA temporarily backed down on its threat to sue the homeowners, and the December 2016 Christmas Light show went on as planned.
According to a flyer produced for the event, the 2016 Christmas light show was held at Jeremy’s home in West Hayden, from December 14 through December 18, 2016 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM.
In order to avoid traffic problems in his community, Jeremy arranged to have visitors brought in by shuttle bus. The program ran for only 5 nights, ending by 9 PM.
According to one previous report, the homeowners even purchased an insurance policy to protect the association from liability during the event.
Jeremy’s next door neighbor said the Christmas lights and 5-day program did not cause her any disturbance.
However, some unkind neighbors in West Hayden tried to spoil the fun during the 2016 event. They harassed some of the guests who visited the community to see the lights and participate in singing Christmas carols.
HOA lawsuit filed by homeowner
In Janaury 2017, Jeremy filed a lawsuit against West Hadyen HOA in Federal Court. The lawsuit alleged anti-Christian discriminatory behavior on the part of the Association.
As is common with HOA disputes, while the lawsuit was pending, Jeremy and his family were ostracized and treated with contempt by some of their neighbors.
Under these circumstances, Jeremy cancelled his Christmas display for December 2017.
But when Morris argued his case before a jury, they agreed that West Hayden HOA discriminated against his family, preventing free expression of their Christian beliefs.
‘War on Christmas’: Idaho Man Wins 4-Year Battle Over Holiday Lights Display
November 25, 2018 As seen on Fox & Friends Weekend
A homeowner in Idaho recently won a four-year battle with his town’s homeowners association (HOA) over the Christmas lights he displayed on his home.
Jeremy Morris and his wife sued the West Hayden Estates Homeowners Association board last year after it threatened to block his display in 2015.
According to the Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press, Morris cited religious discrimination in his lawsuit, as the board’s letter reportedly said it was “hesitant” to mention that some of the town’s residents “are non-Christians or of another faith and I don’t even want to think of the problems that could bring up.”
Morris said Sunday on Fox & Friends that the sellers of his home even testified in federal court that they didn’t want his family’s “beliefs” pressed on others.
Legal significance of Morris vs. West Hayden HOA
In Federal Court, the tide seems to be turning in favor of protecting homeowner rights.
A legal expert quoted in this article from Coeur d’Alene Press notes the legal signficance of the Jeremy Morris v. West Hayden HOA case.
JURY SIDES WITH MORRIS FAMILY IN THIS UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS STORY
November 22, 2018 at 5:00 am | By JUDD WILSON Staff Writer, Coeur d’Aelene Press
A Morris colleague, Richard Mast, is an attorney with Liberty Counsel in Lynchburg, Va. The Christian legal organization specializes in First Amendment issues on behalf of Christians and adherents of other faiths. Citing instances of religious discrimination against Jews, Muslims, and Christians in America, Mast said, “There’s a great deal of myth, smoke and mirrors surrounding the Establishment Clause, and what it permits and prohibits. The general cultural milieu is that people think that if it’s in public, I can’t express my faith. That’s not by accident. There are activists and organizations that want to project that, to make it culturally unacceptable for people to freely exercise their faith, whatever it may be.”
Mast said the Morris case is legally significant because it’s one of the first times where the free exercise of religion around Christmas time has gone in favor of the homeowner. Consequently, Morris’s case will have significant persuasive effects across the country, Mast told The Press. If the case gets appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Morris family wins there, the case would be binding law across the 9th Circuit, which covers most of the western United States.
In case you missed it — previously on IAC:
Homeowner – attorney files fair housing lawsuit seeking de-annexation from HOA
Hayden Idaho homeowner exposes HOA’s bias against Christians
Jeremy Morris credits his court victory to his accumulation of evidence of religious discrimination against his family.
A prime example — the following legal exhibit.
You can see why the jury’s opinion swayed in his favor.
Note the inflammatory language in this draft letter from the HOA intended for Morris, stating, “And finally, we are hesitant to bring up the fact that some of our residents are avowed atheists / non-Christians or people of another faith and we don’t even want to think of the problems that would bring up.”
This version of the letter goes onto to refer to the “riff riff over by Wal-Mart that your Christmas show seems to attract.”
Morris also tells IAC, “The seller of the home, a doctor, was contacted by the HOA at the time of the Morris purchase and he testified in federal court last week that, ‘The HOA President contacted me and said that the Board didn’t want Mr. Morris’ beliefs pressed on others in the neighborhood.’”
Jeremy goes on to explain his motivation for suing his HOA. “HOAs are being exposed for their abuses throughout the country. HOAs pride themselves in monitoring every last aspect of the lives of homeowners—down to the very height of their grass.”
When asked what Mr. Morris’ plans are for the future, Jeremy said he’s looking forward to moving. The first instructions he will be providing to his realtor: “No HOA.”