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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott backs crosses on police cars

mySA logo mySA 1/6/2016 By Peggy Fikac, San Antonio Express-News

AUSTIN – Gov. Greg Abbott, continuing his plunge into a range of religious debates, is backing the display of crosses on sheriff’s department vehicles in a West Texas county.

FILE PHOTO — A federal judge said Monday he would not immediately act on a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to block Syrian refugees from the stare. © Eric Gay /Associated Press FILE PHOTO — A federal judge said Monday he would not immediately act on a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to block Syrian refugees from the stare.

In this instance, Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson has allowed his deputies to put the outline of a small cross on their patrol vehicles’ rear windows, according to the district attorney for the area including the county.

The sheriff’s move was criticized by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Its attorney, Sam Grover, called it “inappropriate and unconstitutional for a government entity to display a Latin cross on its property because it conveys a preference by the Sheriff's Office—and by extension, Brewster County—for religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all minority faiths.”

The foundation called on Dodson to “abandon his plan for the religious decals.”

Gov. Greg Abbott, fulfilling a campaign promise, has made the Texas Military Preparedness Commission an office “administratively attached” to his office. He is in the process of hiring a full-time military adviser to work with local and base communities to develop a strategic plan. © TOM REEL /SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS Gov. Greg Abbott, fulfilling a campaign promise, has made the Texas Military Preparedness Commission an office “administratively attached” to his office. He is in the process of hiring a full-time military adviser to work with local and base communities to develop a strategic plan.

RELATED: Gov. Abbott, Texas AG weigh in as Orange relocates nativity

District Attorney Rod Ponton in December asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for his legal opinion on whether “the mere display of a cross” on a patrol vehicle “violates the First Amendment.”

Brewster County Sheriff's Office vehicle displaying cross. © Attorney General Brewster County Sheriff's Office vehicle displaying cross.

The sheriff’s office “responds to all issues, calls, and citizens without regard to religion or belief,” Ponton emphasized.

Paxton earlier issued a legal opinion supporting the Childress Police Department’s display of “In God We Trust” on its patrol vehicles, saying the department would prevail in a court battle on the issue.

The governor, who had supported the “In God We Trust” motto, also backs the crosses in Brewster County, said Abbott spokesman John Wittman.

“The Constitution demands respect for religious expression rather than hostility towards it and Governor Abbott fully supports Sheriff Dodson’s decision to allow his deputies to display the Cross on their patrol vehicles,” Wittman said by email Tuesday.

Abbott has successfully pushed to remove from the Texas Capitol underground extension a takeoff on a Nativity that came from the Freedom from Religion Foundation. It featured the Bill of Rights in a manger, surrounded by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and the Statue of Liberty. The display promoted the separation of church and state while praising “reason and the Bill of Rights.”

In addition, Abbott weighed in after the city of Orange decided to remove a Nativity scene outside its city hall. The city’s decision followed a request from the Orange County Atheists asked that a “happy holidays” banner also be hung there, the Beaumont Enterprise reported.

“I strongly encourage the City of Orange to stand up to the demands of a select few who wish to see God thrown out of the public square, embrace the season of Christmas and restore the Nativity scene immediately,” Abbott said then.

pfikac@express-news.net

Twitter: @pfikac

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