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Christmas display returns after court win

HAYDEN, Idaho (BP) — A Christian family will resurrect their elaborate neighborhood Christmas display after winning a legal battle against an Idaho homeowners group.

Jeremy R. Morris is preparing an even larger production than the 200,000 lights, living nativity, biblical character actors, carolers, live animals and Santa Claus that he last displayed at Christmas 2016 at his family’s home in Hayden, Idaho, he said Nov. 25 on Facebook.

“This Thanksgiving weekend, I am grateful to live in a country that protects freedom of religion,” Morris wrote after winning his case against a homeowners group that objected because atheists lived in the subdivision. “We love Christmas, celebrating the birth of our savior Jesus Christ.”

While religion was a factor in the case, Morris and his wife Kristy filed their civil suit under Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, otherwise known as the Fair Housing Act, according to documents of the U.S. District Court of the District of Idaho in Coeur d’Alene.

A jury awarded the Morrises $60,000 in compensatory damages and $15,000 in punitive damages, finding that the West Hayden homeowners association “intentionally discriminated” against the Morrises during and after the purchase of their home.

The West Hayden Estates First Addition Homeowners Association Inc. specified preference for a “non-religious” purchaser, and “threatened, intimidated, or interfered with” the Morrises’ purchase or enjoyment of their home, the jury said in its Oct. 30 verdict.

The association is submitting final papers to have the judgment dismissed, according to the court, and the Morrises are seeking to have their home de-annexed from the subdivision.

“We appreciate the jury’s decision ruling in our favor to continue to protect our freedoms for our family and fellow neighbors,” Morris wrote on Facebook. “I can’t think of any two rights in America that are more fundamental to our freedom than the right to worship and the right to property. Somehow our HOA (homeowners’ association) managed to violate both.”

The Morrises filed their lawsuit in January 2017. Their ordeal began in 2015 when they began purchase procedures for their current home and stated their intent to continue the family’s annual charity Christmas production.

The association objected, telling the Morrises by certified letter, “I am somewhat hesitant in bring [sic] 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,” according to a portion of the letter Morris posted on Facebook.

“It is 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 riff-raff you seemed to attract ….”

Morris last held his display at his new home Dec. 14-18, 2016, opening the event to the public at no cost, serving complimentary refreshments and encouraging donations to two nonprofits, the Coeur d’Alene Press reported.

Morris has indicated he’ll expand his display even further in coming years.

“Building a replica of Bethlehem,” he wrote on Facebook Nov. 25. “This will be on new acreage we plan to acquire. This is a long-term project with all building to be done in warmer months. Who has access to free materials? Who can help with construction?”