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Tuesday, December 18, 2018  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Shawn Vestal: Victimhood becoming one of our biggest holiday traditions

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 discrimination. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
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 discrimination. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas.

All the whining, I mean.

A Hayden man has inaugurated what is becoming an annual holiday tradition – warrior Christians picking fights over imagined minor slights. Like the Christmas season itself, the War on Christmas starts earlier and earlier each year. Already, Hayden attorney Jeremy Morris is erecting a grotesquerie of Christmas lights at his home, a big, blaring demonstration sure to irritate the neighbors. In fact, it was intended to – Morris has acknowledged that he had a “media strategy” in place before his homeowners association even complained and the HOA circulated materials all the way back in February saying Morris had threatened to sue if the board did not approve his event.

Now, Morris has donned the mantle of the defiant, persecuted victim, which is increasingly the spirit of the season for a certain kind of bitter elf – looking high and low for offense, and responding with maniacal intensity.

Listen to Morris, shouting from the ramparts into every microphone he can find:

“I’ll go to jail before I remove a single light bulb off my house,” he told KXLY.

“Their real agenda is to attack Christians,” he told Fox News.

“This is an attack on people of faith,” he told The Spokesman-Review.

“They made their first mistake when they went after me,” he told KREM. “Because the fact is that I believe that this country still respects religion. Still respects the First Amendment. And as you can see from the flag that I designed and built here in my office, I don’t back down for (anyone) who thinks that they’re going to intimidate me and tell me that I don’t have a constitutional right to do as I please on my property as long as it doesn’t violate the law.”

He’s the Norma Desmond of the War on Christmas: Very, very ready for his close-up.

The object of Morris’ supposed victimization is the over-the-top Christmas bazaar he has planned for five nights at his home. He is draping his house with more than 10,000 lights. He will provide candy and hot chocolate, photos with Santa Claus, live music, a living nativity and caroling. He will also have Dolly the camel – and “this year Dolly has brought some of her animal friends.” The event takes donations for charity.

It sounds like it might be kind of an impressive, colorful excess. It also sounds strenuous and showoffy, and not especially religious. And it simply cannot come as a surprise to anyone that an association of neighbors might not want the noise, traffic, lights and disruptions that such an extravaganza would cause.

These are the grounds on which the West Hayden Estates First Addition Homeowners Association has objected to Morris’ plans, and threatened to sue. Morris sees another agenda. He told KXLY that his HOA had “made it pretty clear to us that Christmas is offensive to a lot of non-Christians.”

The HOA’s attorney denies this. Morris says he received a letter from the HOA saying there could be problems arising from the fact that some of the neighborhood residents “are non-Christians or of another faith.” But the letter mentions that only after raising the following specific concerns: noise, lighting, traffic and a concern that a “holiday festival of the magnitude you have described … is well beyond normal residential use.” And the formal letter of complaint from the HOA’s attorney doesn’t mention religion at all.

Furthermore, the neighborhood’s nonreligious concerns about Morris’ plans and intentions predate even his ownership of the home. In February, they called an emergency meeting over concerns about Morris’ Christmas extravanganza, which he had hosted in his previous home. A flier for the meeting raised a wide range of concerns about the event, none of them religious. “The board is seeking your opinions on the matter as the individual has threatened legal action if the board does not permit his request,” the flier said.

Every year, the ginned-up War on Christmas returns – a fantasy persecution concocted by right-wing media and gobbled up by people who have trouble sharing. Currently, the permanently offended religionists are roaring about the new Starbucks cups and their supposed failure to be sufficiently Christmasy – no wise men or reindeer or anything! Cupgate 2015 would have been the silliest, weakest battle in the War on Christmas, except that Morris’ lighting dispute is sillier and weaker, because it is theater.

Morris’ victimhood was planned and plotted, right down to his intentions to call in air strikes from the conservative media’s grievance machine. In a fine piece of reporting, Coeur d’Alene Press reporter David Cole covered this aspect of the story – not as a “War on Christmas?” conflict with opposing but equal sides, but as a media stunt Morris planned to draw attention to himself as a valiant culture warrior.

Morris told Cole that when he received a letter from the HOA’s attorney, “well, that triggered stage one of the media strategy. So we contacted Fox News.”

It is, in short, a Christmas charade. Not even Todd Starnes of Fox News was fully buying it, which is saying a whole lot.

Starnes is a bloviator who can find a war on Christians or Christmas or straight people or white people anywhere he looks. He peddles War on Christmas stories that collapse when people check them out. His taste in political jokes offends even his fellow Foxies. He called efforts to take down the Confederate flag “cultural cleansing” comparable to ISIS. He said President Obama is engaged in “Christian cleansing.” He likes to suggest that Obama might be secretly gay, and that gay rights will lead us to … wait for it … man-dog sex.

Does anyone ponder man-dog sex as much as the defenders of marriage? Starnes would be precisely the kind of dimwit to sell Morris’ charade, and yet he was lukewarm about it: “Folks, I love Christmas as much as the next guy, but I’m not too sure I’d have much holiday cheer if there was a camel munching on my mistletoe.”

If you can’t get Starnes to go all-in, you’re not nearly the holiday victim you thought you were.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.


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