A Texas county agreed Monday to remove the display of Christian crosses on sheriff’s vehicles to settle a lawsuit with an atheist group.
The Austin American-Statesman reported that Brewster County officials agreed to pay the Freedom From Religion Foundation nearly $22,000 in legal fees and $400 in other court costs. The settlement was approved last week.
According to the paper, two other atheists who joined the group’s lawsuit against the county both received $1 each “for past constitutional violations.”
Greg Hudson, a lawyer for Brewster County and Sheriff Ronny Dodson, told the paper the settlement reflected a policy that was instituted in March which banned political, religious, commercial and personal symbols from county vehicles. The ban was approved three weeks after the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed its lawsuit.
The Brewster County sheriff’s office vehicles had a cross on each of the vehicles in the lower right on its back windshield.
“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 atheist group had argued that the religious symbols represented a government endorsement of Christianity in violation of the First Amendment.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was asked to issue an opinion on the court case, but was blocked when the group filed a lawsuit in March.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbot supported Brewster County officials in the lawsuit and released a statement saying the crosses do not favor one type of 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, ” he said. “The symbol of the cross appropriately conveys the solemn respect all Texans should have for the courage and sacrifice of our peace officers.”