from their police cars and ban “political, religious, commercial or
personal” phrases or signs on county-owned property, a group that
challenged the county said on Monday.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a
nationwide group that promotes the separation of church and state, and
two of its members sued this year to remove the decals they said
amounted to unconstitutional local government promotion of Christianity.
The Brewster County Clerk’s office said its Commissioners’ Court had agreed to the settlement.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, had stood
behind the sheriff’s department for displaying a cross with a horizontal
thin blue line on their patrol vehicles. Abbott said the cross is part
of U.S. historical practices.
“In addition to its religious significance, the cross
has a long history in America and elsewhere as a symbol of service and
sacrifice,” Abbott wrote before the lawsuit. He added, in his opinion,
the display does not violate U.S. constitutional provisions preventing
the establishment of religion.
Abbott’s office was not immediately available for comment.
At the end of last year, the Brewster County sheriff
asked state officials if his deputies in the sprawling and sparsely
populated west Texas county could keep the cross decals displayed on the
rear windows of their patrol vehicles.
Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson wanted the crosses for “God’s protection over his deputies,” his office said in December.
FFRF said it reached the deal with the county a few
days ago that included having the county pay it about $20,000 in legal
and court fees. Dodson did not respond to a request to comment.
“This was totally avoidable. This was such an egregious
and obvious violation,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF,
said in a phone interview.