Sheriff sued over cross decals on patrol vehicles

Sheriff sued over cross decals on patrol vehicles

BREWSTER COUNTY, TX (KWES) - A West Texas sheriff is being sued in federal court over his decision to place cross-shaped stickers on county patrol vehicles.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a national group that promotes the constitutional separation of church and state, and two of its members filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson.

Plaintiffs Kevin Price and Jesse Castillo, FFRF members residing in Brewster County, could not be reached for comment.

"The black crosses placed on government property by the government are a religious endorsement," said Sam Grover, an attorney for FFRF.

The decals "have the principal effect of advancing religion," according to the petition filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, rendering their display by the government an alleged violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 6 of the Texas Constitution.

Dodson maintained the sheriff's office "is not trying to break the law" and said state officials had never advised him against displaying the decals on patrol vehicles.

"When this situation first arose, [District Attorney] Rod Ponton asked for an Attorney General opinion," he said Friday in an emailed statement. " All who have ever questioned this cross were told we would abide by whatever opinion the Attorney General gave.  We have, to date, not received the opinion."

Ponton confirmed he requested an opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton's office in December but never received one.

The two individuals named as plaintiffs in the suit never contacted the Brewster County Sheriff's Office regarding the cross decals, Dodson added.

However, Grover said he sent a letter to the sheriff on behalf of the FFRF, via mail and email, more than two months before they filed suit.

"Displaying a Latin cross on Brewster County Sheriff's Office patrol vehicles violates the Establishment Clause," he wrote in the letter, dated December 21, 2015. "These decals must not be placed on county property."

Dodson did not confirm whether or not his office received the letter.

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