Brewster County (Texas) Sheriff Ronny Dodson is one of the many, many government officials to put “In God We Trust” stickers on all the vehicles in his department. But rather than pretending it was just an act of patriotism and saying it’s just our national motto, Dodson made clear this was all about promoting Christianity.
His 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…
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…
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who never met a Christian he won’t defend, even issued a letter in support of Dodson:
The symbol of the cross appropriately conveys the solemn respect all Texans should have for the courage and sacrifice of our peace officers. That is an entirely appropriate public purpose, and the Constitution cannot legitimately be interpreted to prohibit it.
It’s very convenient, isn’t it, that the Christian symbol happens to represent whatever secular beliefs Paxton has?
In the months to follow, Dodson didn’t fix the problem on his own or issue any sort of official response. That’s why FFRF announced in March 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.
It now looks like the lawsuit worked as intended.
In a settlement agreed to by both sides last week, FFRF definitely gets the better end of the deal.
Not only will there be a ban on crosses on the department’s vehicles (with the current stickers being removed), Brewster County will be on the hook to pay FFRF $21,970 in legal fees in addition to $400 for court costs. The two atheist plaintiffs, Kevin Price and Jesse Castillo, will receive $1 each (which is just fine since this was never about the money).
In return, Dodson and Brewster County will not have to admit that they did anything wrong… even though the county’s coffers are much lighter than they were before.
“It was just a business decision. There was no reason to fight anything,” [County lawyer Greg] 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.”
As of this moment, there’s no mention of the decision on the County’s Facebook page.
Maybe that’s because it’s a victory for church/state separation no matter how you slice it or what you call it — and it’s even sweeter since it happened in Texas.
Congratulations to FFRF, Price, and Castillo for pursuing this problem and getting the result demanded by the Constitution.
(Thanks to Scott for the link. Large portions of this article were published earlier)