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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Bitter over lack of support, ‘Christmas Lawyer’ says he’s leaving Idaho

Hayden resident Jeremy Morris is the subject of the Apple TV+ documentary ” ’Twas the Fight Before Christmas,” which follows the Morris family’s fight with a local homeowners association over their home’s massive Christmas display.  (Apple TV+)
Hayden resident Jeremy Morris is the subject of the Apple TV+ documentary ” ’Twas the Fight Before Christmas,” which follows the Morris family’s fight with a local homeowners association over their home’s massive Christmas display. (Apple TV+)

The so-called Christmas lawyer says he’s leaving Idaho for a freer state.

That’s what Jeremy Morris announced on Facebook this week, saying that he was being driven out of the Gem State by corrupt courts, atheist neighbors, a failure of community support, and death threats from “homosexual activists.”

As he put it, “I will be leaving Idaho. I thank those who didn’t spit on my family.”

Morris, you may recall, is the North Idaho man with a grandiose sense of himself as a religious martyr whose over-the-top Christmas displays, in which he deployed thousands upon thousands of lights, amplified music, live camels and donkeys and bused-in crowds, seemed intended to produce just what it did produce: a protracted, vindictive battle with his neighbors.

His story was covered in the local press, adjudicated in court, and eventually made into a documentary, “Twas the Fight Before Christmas,” that aired on Apple+ TV in November. (I was interviewed by producers and appeared briefly in the documentary.)

His reasons for leaving Idaho – as he said on Facebook and in a YouTube video Thursday – had a lot to do with his disappointment that more freedom-loving Idahoans didn’t rush to his defense.

He heard from “not one local pastor, not one local representative, not one state senator, no one, no member of Congress, my member of Congress, (Rush Fulcher), who I looked up to, who I donated to his campaign because I liked what he believed – I called his office a couple years ago when my verdict was overturned and asked for his assistance, and it was about as close to a hangup from the people in his office as you could get,” he said on YouTube.

He said he expected hundreds, if not thousands, to rally to his cause.

“You can go to Hobby Lobby, get some candles and sing ‘Silent Night’ in my front yard,” he said. “I thought surely that would happen.”

Morris’ extravagant Christmas shows were an issue with his neighbors even before he moved into his home in West Hayden Estates. Based on his Christmas displays in his previous home, neighbors were concerned about traffic, people and noise that would accompany the spectacle.

The moment the conflict became serious, with the HOA sending him a letter in 2015 outlining why they believed the display violated association rules, Morris – by his own account in the Coeur d’Alene Press – issued “stage one in the media strategy” by calling Fox News.

Morris then sued the HOA, arguing religious discimrimination. Among the evidence he cited was a draft of a letter sent to him expressing the concern that the holiday display could raise problems for non-Christian members of the HOA – a letter that also listed the many rules the display would violate, and displayed snobbish concerns about attracting “riff-raff.”

A jury ruled in his favor, but the judge tossed that verdict, in large part because he found Morris “almost uniformly” was not credible and that his testimony was “riddled with inconsistencies.” The judge was roundly dismissive of the religious persecution claim. The case is now awaiting action in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In his YouTube video, Morris said the battle with his neighbors was really about “good versus evil.” He has continually represented himself as someone merely trying to express his religious faith, and being persecuted for it. But his garish extravaganza seemed to be more about seeking attention than exercising faith, and you can see clearly in news reports, the lawsuit and the documentary how deeply Morris relishes the fight.

In a string of posts and replies on Facebook starting Wednesday night, he announced that he’d be leaving Idaho, citing the dearth of support from churches and the community, crooked judges, a slippage in the state’s commitment to liberty, persecution from atheist neighbors and “thousands of homosexual activists who have threatened to kill my children,” jealousy from others with political ambitions, and aforementioned failure of his neighbors to sing “Silent Night” on his front lawn.

“How many years does my family have to look behind our back in our own neighborhood?” he posted on Facebook. “I have been robbed of my joy and my life basically ruined. In the meantime, has the governor ever called me directly? … The entire state of Idaho is shameful.”

Morris has concluded that Idaho is not the freedom-loving haven it once was – and his Facebook friends agreed, suggesting that he find a home in one of the “good, freedom-loving states” like Texas, Tennessee or Florida.

Morris said Florida is a real contender. Nashville is nice, but too expensive. It goes without saying that he will avoid anywhere “where BLM might be destroying cities and the few historical artifacts that remain.”

Montana? “Too close to Idaho.”

Wherever Morris lands, one suspects he won’t lose his sense of proportion and understatement.

“Idaho has betrayed me in the worst possible way,” he wrote on Facebook. “I am sickened by what the local churches and local GOP has failed to do with respect to what happened to my family. They say never burn bridges. This entire post is intended to pour my own gasoline on that bridge.”

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