The Freedom From Religion Foundation is pleased at the role it has played in a recent victory for the U.S. Constitution.
FFRF and two of its members in March had sued the sheriff of Brewster County, Texas, over his decision to affix Latin cross decals on county patrol vehicles. In a legal settlement this week, the county has officially consented to remove religious decals and not to display them in the future. It has also agreed to reimburse fees for the attorneys representing the two local FFRF plaintiffs Kevin Price and Jesse Castillo and to pay nominal damages to both of them. (FFRF was represented by its Staff Attorneys Sam Grover and Patrick Elliott and by Texas litigator Randall Kallinen.)
Much to FFRF's delight, Brewster County commissioners almost immediately after its lawsuit voted to ban "political, religious, commercial or personal" phrases or signs on county-owned property. The settlement will formalize that decision in the legal system.
The suit was precipitated by Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson's announcement last December that he "wanted God's protection over his deputies" in deciding to place the prominent crosses on at least five county law enforcement vehicles. It was filed in U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, Alpine Division, on March 2. Local plaintiffs Price and Castillo, both atheists and members of FFRF, the nation's largest freethought organization, came into regular and unwelcome contact with the Christian displays numerous times while out driving in the county.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor appreciates Brewster County's prohibition of religious paraphernalia on community property. But she says she was shocked that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had "blessed" the sheriff's action.
"We're very pleased with the rapid and amicable resolution of this case," she says. "But the sheriff—who took an oath to uphold our nation's secular Constitution—ought to have known better. Crosses on law enforcement vehicles sent a theocratic and chilling message."
(FFRF is also suing the Texas governor for downing its secular display at the state Capitol last December.)
Brewster County is located in the western part of the state, with a population of less than 10,000. Its county seat and only city is Alpine. According to the Texas Observer, the county is the largest in the state—"five times the size of Rhode Island, three times the size of Delaware and 500 square miles larger than Connecticut."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, with its 23,800 members (including almost 1,000 in Texas), is thrilled at bringing about a constitutional win in this unique portion of the country.