Is Jeremy Morris the Clark W. Griswold of Hayden, Idaho? This is a story of the evangelical culture wars clashing on Christmas. When the warped perspective of white Christian persecution runs amuck. This is the story of Jeremy Morris, a cultural warrior graduate from Liberty University engages in a legal battle with the West Hayden Estates Homeowners Association over a massive Christmas display.
“We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next door neighbor. ”
Gilbert K Chesterton
“If you burn your neighbors house down, it doesn’t make your house look any better.”
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:30-31 NIV
Today’s post is going to be a seasonal one. Its deeply appropriate for Christmas and fits in well with the topics and culture I write about here at The Wondering Eagle.
Recalling Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation
At Christmas time some people like to watch their favorite Christmas movies. For each person it differs. It’s a Wonderful Life is what some enjoy, others prefer How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Tim Allen’s Santa Claus or Home Alone. In the past Christmas is not complete until I try to watch my favorite Christmas movie. And like the gift that keeps on giving I also get to watch it all around the year. Bruce Willis Die Hard 1 and Die Hard 2 really help round out my holiday. Then another Christmas classic for me is Samuel L. Jackson’s Long Kiss Goodnight. That movie has become a cult classic for many and my hope is that it will be made into a sequel one day. But there is another Christmas movie that is well known and I recall watching it in the theater as a kid. Its Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation which was released in 1989. Its the story of the Griswold family having Christmas.
You probably are familiar with the story. But if you do not this is what it is about. Clark and Ellen celebrate Christmas in Chicago. In preparation for the relatives Clark decorates the family house with 25,000 lights. It creates chaos for their neighbors Todd and Margo. (Note Margo was Julie Lewis-Dreyfus and after this movie she become well known in the epic classic Seinfeld) While admiring the lights Cousin Eddie and Catherine who are problematic in the family show up for the holiday. The Christmas Eve dinner is a disaster as its overcooked severely. Clark is also waiting for his yearly bonus as he wrote a check for a down payment for a pool, and he fears the check is going to bounce. Instead of a bonus Clark learns that he is enrolled in the Jelly of the Month club. In a tirade he (which you can see below) rants about how he wants to see his boss in his house so he can insult him to his face. Cousin Eddie takes the rant seriously and drives his RV over to Frank Shirley’s house and kidnaps him. The police and SWAT teams show up at Clark’s house to free Frank Shirley. When Frank Shirley’s wife hears about how he canceled bonuses she chews him out. Frank decides not to press charges and tells Clark that his bonus will be whatever he made last year plus 20%. A disaster comes together and it ends with the Griswold’s, all their relatives, the police and the Shirley’s singing the Star Spangled Banner on Clark’s lawn.
Recently I learned of another situation that has drawn real life comparisons to Clark W. Griswold. It has received attention in the press and what makes this unique is how it is tainted by fundamentalism. So instead of Clark W. Griswold let’s look at Jeremy Morris from Hayden, Idaho.
Who is Jeremy Morris?
Jeremy Morris is a fundamentalist who is deeply engaged in the evangelical culture wars. It appears he is from the Grants Pass, Oregon area. He grew up as an evangelical with John MacArthur influencing him. In 2004 he started Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. There he studied political science and history where he earned a B.A. Morris was married by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. This is the same Tony Perkins who allegedly covered up a sexual assault. I researched and wrote about it in, “Did Tony Perkins from The Family Research Council Cover Up an Alleged Sexual Assault? Is that What Evangelical Family Values is About?” Jeremy interacted with Jerry Falwell who encouraged him to go to law school at Liberty University. He did, and graduated in 2010. Jeremy throws himself into conservative causes and the culture wars. Traditional evangelical family values, the second Amendment and national security issues are his focus. Jeremy likes to use legal entrapments and more. According to a Washington publication this is how Jeremy is described.
“He sued over the security deposit at the home where he held his first Christmas show in 2014. He joined a lawsuit arguing the state’s standardized test violated the 10th Amendment. He was involved with a 2013 stunt that tried to trick Coeur d’Alene council candidates by sending them deceptive emails, pretending to be progressives asking about prayer at public meetings. Last year, a Coeur d’Alene school board member made some comments in favor of removing Confederate symbols, and pretty soon Morris was standing out front of a school board meeting with a fake book-burning bonfire prop and a bullhorn, waving an American flag and proclaiming that “Bolsheviks have taken over the school board.”
Today Jeremy is living in Hayden, Idaho where he practices law. But what Jeremy will be remembered for is how he became beloved on the far right for waging the Christmas war. He believes that his faith was being persecuted by his homeowners association and entered into a prolonged legal battle to create one of the larger private Christmas displays in the United States. The display made Clark W. Griswold’s from the classic Christmas Vacation as being tame. Let’s review what happened.
A Christmas Display in 2014
The first Christmas display Jeremy Morris put together occurred in 2014. It occurred in the old Grouse Meadows neighborhood in Hayden, Idaho. He wanted to do a Christmas display and go all out. On a scale of 1 to 10, Jeremy wanted to be a 20. He wanted to make a spectacle and get his neighbors involved. Evangelism was also a part of the motivation. He planned to give away cotton candy, hot chocolate and raise money for a Coeur d’Arlene shelter for kids and a local organization that helps families with cancer. His planned display attracted 917 likes on Facebook. In the display he had a live camel, recruited kids from the local high school which is Lakeland to Christmas songs and had an army of volunteers from his evangelical church – Candlelight Christian Fellowship to assist. The entire spectacle lasted eight nights and raised thousand of dollars. While some were impressed others were upset. According to the Spokesman Review Morris did not get the necessary city permits and violated local ordinances. One neighbor complained about the bright lights. Morris’ display did create a lot of congestion, noise and increased the traffic in the neighborhood. But as an evangelical Christian Jeremy Morris interpreted the Christmas Light Show as a sign from God. This was to be his ministry and he would use it to evangelize people and bring them to Christ. In 2015 Morris decided that he needed to do a spectacle that would stand out and be twice as big. He told his real estate agent that he wanted to move and get a house that was outside Hayden and he would not have to worry about permits. Shortly after Christmas he found a house in West Hayden Estates. Jeremy was elated he found his dream house, was backed by the Lord and perhaps now he was going to have the biggest Christmas Light Show in the Pacific Northwest.
Plans for a Christmas Display in 2015, and Claiming Christian Persecution to Fox and the Alt Right Press
Morris claims that he consulted with his attorneys to make sure that this planned Christmas Light Show would not violate the subdivision’s neighborhood covenant. After all he planned to move into his house expressly for the massive light displays. What I am about to write about occurred before Morris gets the keys and moves in. Morris called the heads of the West Hayden Estates Homeowners Association and told her about his planned massive five-day light show. His is doing ministry and he is serving the Lord.
In January of 2015 then Morris gets a letter from the West Hayden Estates Homeowners Association. The letter states that it doesn’t want to discourage him from being a part of their “great neighborhood.” However, it also states that there is the potential for expensive litigation if he holds his Christmas Light Show in December of 2015. The Homeowners Association cites neighborhood covenants that detail lighting, sound, traffic and property uses. This I should add happens in many Homeowners Associations. After all I live in one that states clearly how displays can be done and even what can be stored on the outside balcony. The Homeowners Association is concerned that a lot of people and even “undesirables.” The Homeowners Association wanted to be inclusive to all people. One line in the letter stood out to Jeremy Morris. That line read as follows. “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.” To Morris and his wife the Homeowners Association hated Christians. Both Jeremy and his wife were not the only individuals who thought their Christian faith was being discriminated against. His real estate agent – who was involved in Morris Bible study also believed similarly. So do his pastor at Candlelight and the couple who are about to sell him their home.
Morris then responds to the Homeowners Association with a stern demand. His home is to be de-annexed by the Homeowners Association. This happens in a tense meeting. Morris states that if his home is de-annexed he will not pursue legal actions against the association. The problem however, is that the neighborhood covenant requires three-fourths of the neighbors of agree to kick him out. Morris wants the board to convince the neighbors to take this course of action.
What happened next caught the Morris by surprise. The Homeowners Association sends out a letter to the West Hayden Estates. 48 homes received this letter. The letter stated that a new member was threatening “legal action” if they did not approve his holiday light show. In response, Morris shoots off a letter claiming that the board lied and that it violated the Fair Housing Act. All the homes in the West Hayden Estates get his letter. Morris was set on this move but his wife changed her mind. She is afraid they would be attacked for being Christians. Morris pastor also discourages him from moving in. But to Jeremy Morris he needs to take a stand for the Lord. Thus, in March of 2015 they move into this Homeowners Association who already resents him. Things are quiet but in October of 2015 Morris starts to plan and create displays for his Christmas show in December. In October he started to put up the Christmas lights. In response he gets a letter from the Homeowners Association attorney claiming that his Christmas show would be “offensive to the senses.” It would congest traffic and violate the neighborhood covenant. He had 10 days to respond otherwise there would be legal action. Jeremy Morris’ response was “Nuts.”
Morris in response blows the story to the national media. He focuses on Fox, conservative outlets, alt right press and more. Its a war against Christmas and Christians are being told that they can’t celebrate the holiday. He is being persecuted for his faith. UFP an alt right fake news website sends a van and in reporting claims that the Homeowners Association wants to avoid “upsetting Muslims.” Soon its regular press that gets involved. Associated Press, Salon, Christianity Today and more.
An Idaho Militia Gets Involved and the 2015 Christmas Light Show
The coverage gets the attention of a group associated with the militia movement. Shortly before Jeremy Morris claimed he was being persecuted the Three Percenters of Idaho drove to Burns, Oregon to help those occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers. Afterward the Three Percenters show up at Morris home and offer to protect him from the neighborhood. This militia is heavily armed from my research. As this was going on one of the couples of the Homeowners Association went onto the Three Percenters of Idaho Facebook page and left some angry comments. Larry and Kathy Bird state the following. “Even before Mr. News Grabber moved in here, he was threatening lawsuits because of his display coming under attack. Great way to introduce yourself into a new neighborhood, right? This guy claims to be a Christian conservative. The crap he’s pulling is what a liberal Democrat would pull.” Bird was disgusted that there was a militia getting involved and he confronted Morris in a face to face discussion. He made a comment and Morris believes that Larry Bird threatened his families’ life in making a “death threat.” Later on Morris tells a federal judge that Bird “threatened to murder me in front of my family, threatened in explicit detail about things that could be done.” Others disagree with Morris on the situation.
In the month before Christmas of 2015 there is a homeowners meeting. People are angry with Jeremy Morris. An elderly neighbor calls Morris an “ass and tells him to get the hell out.” Other homeowners speak out against Morris and his behavior. Morris is convinced the Homeowners Association has poisoned the community against him. Morris is personally convinced after prayer to the Lord that his faith is being tested. He must hold strong and not give any ground. What drives him is the story in Daniel of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Morris wanted to have the faith of a martyr. He refuses to leave and the Homeowners Association withdraws their legal threat. The light show goes on. Jeremy turns down the militias assistance of providing security during the show. Instead he has former law enforcement provide security. While Morris won this round his wife went off to Virginia where she spent the time with her family.
The 2016 Christmas Light Show and Morris Lawsuit Against the Homeowners Association
In February of 2016 the board sends out the Happy New Years letter to the association. In that letter are the complaints the board collected over the Christmas Light Show. Littering, a crushed culvert, light pollution, heavy traffic, and “children urinating on bushes and in the snow” are what is stated. Morris is in a rage and he demands his house be de-annexed and again threatens a lawsuit. In 2016 Morris starts to plan for the light show. Morris wants it even bigger than the previous one. People from around the United States start to donate supplies. For example someone from San Francisco, California sent him 10 miles of Christmas lights. He installs a 400-amp electrical panel to power them. Costumer designers take donated upholstery and create 23 new outfits. Volunteers plan to dress as Roman centurions to recreate collection of “taxes” which will go to two charities.
When the show kicks off in December of 2016 his neighbors go into action. One next door neighbor stands on her lawn and records Jeremy with all the traffic that has been created. According to a decibel meeting “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is at 75 decibels. Morris is tried of the harassment. The statute of limitations is about to expire in January of 2017, and he fires off a lawsuit. His claim is that the Homeowners Association is violating the Fair Housing Act. He demands $250,000 in punitive damages in addition to the damages of, “shock, humiliation, embarrassment, inconvenience, and economic loss” to his family. When news of the lawsuit breaks Morris gets a veiled threat through Facebook. That threat is, “I would watch my back and your family’s back. Be a bummer if something happened.” Morris is fearful and he has his automatic weapons loaded and nearby at all times. He calls law enforcement that spring when a neighbor rips off some of the Christmas tree lights. His lawsuit is still active when Christmas rolls around. He is fearful of violence against his family. Meanwhile others are also fearful of violence. Neighbors are scared that Jeremy could become completely unhinged and have mental health issues.
To his neighbors they contend they are not opposed to Jeremy Morris evangelical Christian faith. They contend that Morris is a bully. Someone who threatens, intimidates and frightens. In a deposition the previous Homeowners Association claimed that she was scared and broke down in tears while speaking with him on the phone. Morris also likes to record people and entrap them in conversations. According to Washington press some of his neighbors were recorded by Morris for years. Its legal to do this in Idaho. Morris would like to run for office in Idaho and address Homeowners Association reform law. People of the Homeowners Association live in fear because of Morris behavior. Eventually the jury which listens to the case decides in Morris favor. They validate the claim that he was discriminated against for his Christian faith. If you would like to read more about this you can do so in the following articles below.
- Inlander, “How one man’s quest to spread Christmas cheer led to a miserable four-year war with his neighborhood.” ( I leaned on this article when composing this post.)
- Coeur d’Alene Press, “Jury sides with Morris family in this unusual Christmas story.“
- Washington Times, “Man wins religious discrimination suit over extravagant Christmas display.”
- Baptist Press, “Christmas display returns after court win.”
- Free Thought Blogs, “Jeremy Morris is one reason we have a War on Christmas.“
- KREM, “Trial over Hayden man’s Christmas display begins.”
- Daily Mail, “Idaho family wins four-year ‘war on Christmas’ lawsuit against neighbors who discriminated against their religion by trying to stop extravagant nativity play featuring a real CAMEL outside their mansion.”
Is There a War on Christmas? Plus is Jeremy Morris Clark W. Grisowld or Cousin Eddie?
I read this article and was horrified over what I processed. Here is the one thing I find disturbing about people like Jeremy Morris. Jeremy likes to speak about his Christian faith but I find it troubling that for someone who claims to love the Lord he rejects chunks of the Bible. The biggest is Romans 13. He feels entitled to disregard local county, city ordinances and zoning laws. He also feels empowered to violate health rules for an area. That for me is deeply disturbing and its something that people need to know. When you live and thrive in a bubble you can be quite sick. I have seen fundamentalism up close and personal in my life.
According to the Homeowners Association President Jeremy Morris accused the association of being devil-worshippers and joyfully filed a lawsuit. Scripture says to love your neighbor as yourself. Jeremy decided to sue his neighbor. In the process he also went after a number of other Christians. This is part of the reason why I distrust what comes out of Jerry Falwell’s Jr’s Liberty University. A while back I asked if Lynchburg, Virginia at some point would be the next Waco or Ruby Ridge. Jeremy carrying around automatic weapons and even attracting a violent Idaho militia really validates my prior analysis. You can read that in, “Liberty University Opens a “State-of-the-Art” Gun Range. Given how some Evangelicals can be Intensely Paranoid Could a Waco or Ruby Ridge Situation Develop One Day in Lynchburg, Virginia?”
That leads me to another question, is there a war on Christmas as some evangelicals claim? Happy Holidays has been said for a long time. It also can’t be denied that in western culture Christmas and Hanukkah are close to each other. The other problem which many people forget is that in all likelihood the birth of Christ likely happened in the spring. What convinces me of that? Its the story of the shepherds and the lambs which usually happen in the spring. So is it worth getting wrapped up in knots in such a way? After all no one has told me that I can’t say Merry Christmas. Now would I say Merry Christmas to someone who is Jewish? No, that would really make no sense from my perspective. But where does the sense of persecution over Christmas come? No one has told Jeremy Morris and the others like him they can’t celebrate Christmas. The issue wasn’t Christmas but zoning laws, and ordinances. Plus while some people skirt with or flirt with the law, (i.e. a Pony for a birthday party) who has wild animals on their front lawn for almost a week? That is excessive and out of bounds. When you move into a Homeowners Association or a Condo complex you have to deal with Homeowners Association rules. For example where I live I would love to get a big dog, but rules state otherwise. At times I am disappointed, but the reality is that I bought the condo there and moved in. Its the reality of the situation and if I dislike it then I should leave. The onus falls upon me.
Jeremy Morris illustrates why parts of evangelical Christianity can be so sick. Some in the faith can be a bully and use power against others. Compare how Jeremy behaved to how Jesus acted in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jeremy reacts, Jesus surrenders. Jeremy insults, Jesus says pray for your enemies. Jeremy sues his neighbors and Jesus calls for his followers to love them as you would love yourself. And you know what is the icing on the cake in this story? Like other evangelical Christians Jeremy can’t admit error. He won’t say he’s sorry, or try to reconcile with his neighbors. That is not a faith I can be a part of. Actually I see nothing that attracts me to that component. What I see instead is how much of a threat people like Jeremy Morris and the others like him are to the Christian faith.
So that brings me to my final question. In the press some people compare Jeremy Morris to Clark W. Griswold. Is Jeremy Clark W. Griswold? Clark meant well and was naïve in some ways. Yet he was playful and put his family first. What does that say when you go to such lengths to do a Christmas display and your wife goes from North Idaho to Virginia on the East Coast for the Holiday? I think a better comparison to Jeremy Morris is Cousin Eddie. He arrives in the neighborhood and causes trouble. He’s odd and sticks out. Plus he doesn’t consider his neighbors or the community he lives in. For me what I would like to see is a Jeremy Morris standing in a bathrobe unloading a chemical toilet in the sewer. He’s holding a beer and as the neighbors drive or walk by he’s screaming, “The shitter is full!”