Courtesy of The Post Register
November 8, 2018
A North Idaho jury awarded a Hayden-area couple $75,000 last
week, ruling a homeowners association engaged in religious discrimination in a
story billed as a “war on Christmas” by some national news outlets.
The jury returned its
unanimous verdict last Tuesday in favor of Jeremy and Kristy
Morris, who in 2017 sued the West Hayden States First
Addition Homeowners Association in U.S. District Court in
Coeur d’Alene, alleging the HOA tried to block an
extravagant Christmas program from taking place in their
neighborhood. The HOA, in turn, countersued.
In its decision, the jury found the homeowners association
discriminated against the Morrises during and after the
purchase of their home in the 13000 block of Ferndale Drive.
It also found that a letter sent by the HOA in 2014 that
said the Christmas program would violate the HOA’s
covenants, conditions and restrictions showed a “preference
that a non-religious individual” should purchase the home.
The jury awarded the couple $60,000 in compensatory damages
and $15,000 in punitive damages. An attorney for the defense
did not immediately return calls Monday seeking comment on
whether there was a plan to appeal.
The origins of the lawsuit, which made national headlines on
Fox News in 2015 after Jeremy Morris contacted the station
and several other media outlets, began in 2014 when the HOA
board of directors drafted the letter to the Morrises saying
if they wanted to move to the neighborhood, they’d have to
scrap a plan to hold a five-day Christmas extravaganza on
their property — an event that regularly drew thousands of
people and featured elaborate Christmas lights, decorations
and live music.
Jeremy Morris stands next to his wife, Kristy, and their
daughter, Savannah Claire, 3, in front of their home Dec. 18, 2014, in
Hayden. Morris has sued his homeowners association for religious
The letter, according to the Morrises, was written after the
couple contacted the HOA in late December 2014, letting them know their
intention to purchase a home in the neighborhood. The lawsuit states the couple
reviewed the association’s restrictions and found their planned Christmas
program, which the couple say also raises money for families of cancer patients,
didn’t violate any rules.
“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. “We have worked hard to keep our area peaceful, quiet, and clean.”
For their reasoning, the board said the Christmas program would violate several
rules, including noise limitations and lighting restrictions that would be
“excessively” bright. Near the end of the letter, however, the HOA mentions
“Christians” and “faith,” something Morris and his attorneys clung to as a clear
violation of his family’s religious preference.
“And finally, I am somewhat hesitant in bringing up the fact that some of our
residents are non-Christians or of another faith,” the board wrote. “And I don’t
even want to think of the problems that could bring up.”
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.
“The letter talks just like normal people talk every day,” he said. “Normally,
people don’t say, ‘Listen, you’re fired because I don’t like the color of your
Still, critics of the lawsuit, including Spokesman-Review columnist Shawn
Vestal, said the Morrises’ legal complaint was a strategically concocted media
stunt meant to further the narrative that mainstream media and the political
left were at war with Christmas.
Supporting this narrative was a Coeur d’Alene Press story from 2015 — a year and
a half before the Morrises filed suit — in which the homeowner admits he picked
the particular home to “conduct his Christmas event.” He further told a Press
reporter that when he received a letter from the HOA’s then-attorney Scott
Poorman, it triggered “stage one of the media strategy.”
“So I contacted Fox News,” he told the Press.
Morris said Monday the quote was taken out of context and meant more as a joke
or off-hand comment. He admitted that while he did email Fox News, and tag other
media outlets, it was nothing more than a “late-night decision.”
“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.”