Texas county bans patrol car crosses to settle atheist lawsuit


Despite support from Gov. Greg Abbott, officials in Brewster County have agreed to ban the display of Christian crosses on sheriff’s vehicles to settle a lawsuit from the national Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Under the settlement, approved last week by county commissioners, Brewster County agreed to pay the foundation $21,970 in legal fees and $400 for court costs.

Two atheist residents of Brewster County who joined the foundation’s lawsuit, Kevin Price and Jesse Castillo, also were awarded $1 each “for past constitutional violations,” the consent decree said.

READ: Gov. Greg Abbott supports crosses on Brewster County patrol vehicles.

Greg Hudson, an Austin lawyer representing Brewster County and Sheriff Ronny Dodson, said the settlement reflected a county policy approved by the Commissioners Court in March that banned political, religious, commercial and personal symbols and messages from county vehicles. The ban was approved about three weeks after the foundation filed its lawsuit in Alpine’s federal court.

The decals, foot-high depictions of a Latin cross with a thin blue line, were removed from the department’s vehicles.

“It was just a business decision. There was no reason to fight anything,” Hudson said. “I think the county’s position is, let’s save this fight for another day; we’ve taken care of this issue internally.”

The settlement resolved “claimed constitutional violations” but specified that the county was making no admission of liability.

In its lawsuit, the foundation argued that the crosses represent a government endorsement of Christianity in violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition on government actions that improperly favor one religion.

District Attorney Rod Ponton, whose West Texas district includes Brewster County, in December asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to issue a formal opinion approving of the display, writing that he believed the “cross is a symbol of protection and comfort” for officers.

Abbott followed with a memo to Paxton that said the crosses do not favor one religion.

“The Brewster County deputies’ crosses neither establish a religion nor threaten any person’s ability to worship God, or decline to worship God, in his own way, ” Abbott said. “The symbol of the cross appropriately conveys the solemn respect all Texans should have for the courage and sacrifice of our peace officers.”

Paxton, a Christian who has made it a priority to protect religious practice, was blocked from issuing his opinion when the foundation sued Brewster County in early March. His office does not offer legal opinions involving pending litigation.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Police: Maine man punches himself in face to avoid sobriety test 
Police: Maine man punches himself in face to avoid sobriety test 

Police have accused a Maine man of punching himself several times in the face to avoid a Breathalyzer test, The Bangor Daily News reported. Police suspected Brian Fogg, 27, of Belfast, to be intoxicated when they were called to a residence on Jan. 13 and found Fogg’s vehicle stuck in a ditch, police said. Belfast police said Fogg and...
FORECAST: Patchy fog in morning followed by sunshine
FORECAST: Patchy fog in morning followed by sunshine

A winter reprieve is finally here. Saturday will bring patchy fog before noon, then sunshine, according to the National Weather Service. The service warns that there may be dense fog, which could decrease visibility. Visibility is still less than a mile for most places along Interstate 35 and areas east and south of there. The day, which will begin...
THE LATEST: Activist Alexei Wood arrested at Austin anti-Trump rally
THE LATEST: Activist Alexei Wood arrested at Austin anti-Trump rally

1 p.m. update: The activist who was arrested during this morning’s rally at Austin City Hall is Alexei Wood, one of the six defendants who were acquitted last month of causing rioting and destroying property during President Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration. Wood was charged Saturday with theft from a person after a dustup at the Austin...
College student dies after on-campus shooting at Wake Forest
College student dies after on-campus shooting at Wake Forest

A 21-year-old student from Winston-Salem State University was shot and killed early Saturday after a fight broke out during a party at Wake Forest University, police said. The shooting occurred around 1 a.m., WXII reported. It took place on campus during a Delta Sigma Theta sorority party at The Barn, police said. Najee Ali Baker, 21, was...
Pizza shop owner sues when store confused for one where assault occurred
Pizza shop owner sues when store confused for one where assault occurred

A Pennsylvania pizza shop is being targeted, but its owner says it is a case of mistaken identity. Customers upset about a viral video in which a former manager allegedly assaulted a woman have been calling Original Milano's in Oakland -- but the video was taken at Pizza Milano. Ben Sciulli is the owner of the Original Milano's Pizza. He wants to make...
More Stories