For several years, Jeremy and Kristy Morris and their young children hosted a five-day long event on their property celebrating Christmas. When they decided to move to a new community and explained to the new HOA that they planned to host this event, communications with the HOA hit a discriminatory pitch. In 2014, the HOA explained in a letter that
It’s 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 hundreds of people and possible undesirables. We have worked hard to keep our area peaceful, quiet, and clean . . . .
And finally, 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.
Though citing “rules and regulations,” the letter’s concluding paragraph made clear that the HOA’s true opposition to the Christmas event was the “Christ” part of the occasion.
The Morris’ filed suit once they realized that the HOA wanted to qualify the terms of their residence in the new community because they were Christians. They argued that the HOA was violating the Fair Housing Act by committing religious discrimination. The Fair Housing Act prohibits “discriminatory practices [that] make housing unavailable to persons because of . . . religion.” In other words, no person or organization has the right to exclude someone from something as essential as housing because of their religious beliefs.
The case went to trial, and the evidence exposed the true extent of the HOA’s hostility towards the Morris’ and their faith. The jury sided with the Morris’ and awarded a total of $75,000 to the family.
The facts of this case are troubling, especially because of the HOA’s express hostility. An earlier draft of the above letter showed that the HOA even referred to the potential Christmas event attendees as “the riff-raff you seemed to attract over by WalMart.”
But the jury vindicated the Morris’ civil rights and held the HOA accountable for its attack on religious expression. This case demonstrates that we must always be vigilant in defending our federally protected rights to express our faith.