The Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding that a prominently exhibited cross be taken down from a Texas sheriff's office.
A concerned local resident informed FFRF that a Latin cross is on display above the reception window in the Presidio County Sheriff's Office. The cross features an eagle clutching a police badge above a holstered gun with the words "Peace" and "grace" on either side, below which is the inscription: "The Lord will guide you always." The cross is visible to all visitors.
The religious significance of the Latin cross is unambiguous and indisputable. An overwhelming majority of federal courts have found that the Latin cross universally represents the Christian religion, and only the Christian religion. And a majority of federal courts have held displays of Latin crosses on public property to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
"The permanent display of a Latin cross in a government office is unconstitutional," FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert writes to County Sheriff Danny Dominguez. "The display of this patently religious symbol on public property confers government endorsement of Christianity, a blatant violation of the Establishment Clause."
There are also troubling social messages being transmitted due to the presence of the cross.
It unabashedly creates the perception of government endorsement of Christianity and conveys the message to the nearly 30 percent of Americans who are not Christians, including the 23 percent of Americans who are not religious, that they are not "favored members of the political community," to quote the U.S. Supreme Court. The effect is to make non-Christian and non-believing residents of Presidio County political outsiders.
The display is made more problematic by the imagery included on the cross. An eagle, a police badge, and a holstered gun together with a religious message, all on the cross, more transparently draws a connection between the Presidio County Sheriff's Department and the Christian religion — creating an unambiguous endorsement of Christianity. The display sends the message that the sheriff's department is an arm of the Christian faith, relegating non-Christian residents of Presidio County to second-class status and making those residents question law enforcement's commitment to serve and protect them.
Citizens interact with and rely on law enforcement officers during some of the most urgent and vulnerable times of their lives. These citizens should not be made to feel excluded and like political outsiders because the local government they support with their taxes oversteps its power by prominently placing religious iconography on government property. Nor should the Sheriff's Office turn devout Christian citizens into "insiders."
"The Presidio County Sheriff's Department is engaging in a blatant endorsement of Christianity," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Non-Christian citizens cannot feel comfortable in the Sheriff's Office with such an obviously Christian sign."
FFRF is asking that the Presidio County Sheriff's Department immediately remove the cross from the Sheriff's Office and ensure no such iconography is displayed in the office in the future.
FFRF, in tandem with the American Humanist Association, won a resounding federal court ruling on Monday, June 19, in a federal lawsuit over a Christian cross in a Pensacola, Fla., park. Earlier this year, as a result of a lawsuit filed by FFRF, the city of Santa Clara, Calif., removed a large cross from one of its public parks.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 29,000 nonreligious members across the country, including 1,200 in Texas. FFRF's purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.