The Freedom From Religion Foundation and two of its members are suing a Texas sheriff over his decision to affix Latin cross decals on county patrol vehicles.
Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson announced in 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.
Local plaintiffs Kevin Price and Jesse Castillo, both atheists and FFRF members, have come in regular contact with the Christian displays numerous times while out driving in the county. They "do not believe in any supernatural beings" and object to "an exclusively Christian religious symbol" being displayed on their county's patrol vehicles, the suit notes.
Both men contend "the Latin crosses convey the divisive message that non-Christians . . . are not equally valued members of the community and that Christians are favored."
When the Brewster County Sheriff's Office Facebook page posted two comments supportive of the Latin crosses, Price criticized the action. His comments were deleted by the sheriff's office and he was blocked from making further comments.
Castillo believes "that the crosses heighten the stigma associated with being an atheist and that he might receive more favorable treatment from the Sheriff's Office by hiding his atheism or by displaying pro-Christian messages," states FFRF's legal complaint.
FFRF seeks appropriate declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as nominal damages and attorney's fees.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor asserts that no government official has the right to promote his or her personal beliefs on government property.
"Whether it is a cross, a star and crescent, or a pentagram, law enforcement must remain neutral on matters of religion in order to foster public confidence in their impartiality," Gaylor said.
Brewster County, located in the western part of Texas, has a population of less than 10,000.
The federal lawsuit against Dodson was filed in U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, Alpine Division, on March 2. To view the full lawsuit online, go to ffrf.org/brewster.
The case is brought on behalf of the plaintiffs by Randall L. Kallinen of Houston, with FFRF Staff Attorneys Sam Grover and Patrick Elliott as co-counsel. Kallinen represented the late Kay Staley in her victorious litigation to remove a bible monument from the steps of the Harris County Courthouse.