A religious law firm is appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on behalf of a Hayden family after a judge overruled a jury verdict finding a Homeowner's Association discriminated against them based on religion in regards to a Christmas light display.
First Liberty Institute is asking the Ninth Circuit to reinstate the jury's verdict.
“The jury found that the Homeowners’ Association discriminated against the Morris family by repeatedly attempting to shut down the family’s Christmas display and childrens’ charity fundraiser,” Jeremy Dys, Deputy General Counsel for First Liberty Institute said. “The jury in this case recognized clear religious hostility by the HOA—there was no good reason for a judge to overrule them.”
Jeremy Morris had been battling his HOA for years over the light display, suing them in 2015 claiming religious discrimination and to have his property de-annexed from the West Hayden Homeowner's Association and at least $250,000 in damages.
Jeremy and Kristy Morris hosted a Christmas display at their home in Hayden, asking visitors for donations to charities to assist children who were victims of cancer, abuse or neglect. In 2014, when planning to move, the Morris' let the HOA know about the display.
In response, the HOA wrote, “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” and “we do not wish to . . . fill our neighborhood with the hundreds of people and possible undesirables.”
The jury unanimously agreed with Morris that they were discriminated against on the basis of religion during and after the purchase of their home, being awarded $60,000 in compensatory damages and $15,000 in punitive damages.
Last month however, Idaho District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill took the rare step of overturning the verdict jury's and ordered Jeremy Morris to pay for the HOA's attorney fees and banned Morris from holding the Christmas event in the future.
“Families should be encouraged to raise money for an abused or neglected children’s charity by inviting their community to see their Christmas display, not be punished by their HOA for it,” added Dys.
First Liberty is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for Americans.