Atheists Sue Texas Sheriff Who Put Christian Crosses on All Department Vehicles

We’ve seen a lot of sheriffs putting “In God We Trust” stickers on city-owned vehicles over the past few months. Unfortunately, there’s not much recourse we have for that. The sheriffs can just lie about their religious motives, shrug their shoulders, and say, “It’s our national motto!”

But when they’re putting a Christian cross on the vehicles, that crosses a line. And that’s what Brewster County (Texas) Sheriff Ronny Dodson did with his office’s cars a couple of months ago:

1SherrifCross

The office even posted a supporter’s comment on Facebook:

We stand with Sheriff Ronny Dodson on his decision to place crosses on all of his deputies vehicles. These crosses are white with a thin blue stripe across them. He said that he wanted God’s protection over his deputies and that the thin blue line stands for law enforcement. As the mother of one of these officers, I appreciate this bold statement in a time when everyone is so worried about being “politically correct”. Thanks again Sheriff Dodson!!! Please share your support for his decision…

Debbie Skelton

There’s absolutely no doubt about the intention here: It’s to promote religion through the department.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, recognizing that a line had been crossed, sent a letter to Dodson back in December, warning him against doing this:

Citizens of Brewster County trust their elected officials to attend to their elected secular duties. Spending taxpayer time and money placing religious symbols on patrol cars is beyond the scope of secular government. The proposed cross decals must not be placed on Brewster County Sheriff’s Office vehicles…

There wasn’t an official response at the time, though someone at the office pointed out that they have contacted the state’s Attorney General for advice. Given that the AG is Ken Paxton, who never met a Christian “martyr” he didn’t support, I have no doubt he’ll say it’s perfectly legal. But the law is firmly on FFRF’s side.

In the past couple of months, Dodson hasn’t fixed this problem on his own. That’s why FFRF announced today that they had filed a federal lawsuit against him and the county:

[The lawsuit] adds, “The Latin crosses represent an endorsement of religion, in this case Christianity, and have the principal effect of advancing religion. Their display by the government, therefore, runs afoul of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 6 of the Texas Constitution.”

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 says.

The question now is whether the courts will take the lawsuit seriously. The plaintiffs are two local atheists who “have come in regular contact with the Christian displays numerous times while out driving in the county.” They believe the symbols “convey the divisive message that non-Christians… are not equally valued members of the community.” That should be enough to establish legal standing, but this is Texas. Who knows what a judge will say?

Keep this in mind: If these crosses are found to be legal, you can bet that other police departments (and fire departments and other government institutions) will start copying the move, putting up crosses everywhere they can.

Why wouldn’t they? Some people will do anything to promote Christianity on the taxpayers’ dime.

(Large portions of this article were published earlier)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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