A Tennessee county whose sheriff praised Jesus on the Bradley County department’s Facebook page—and then deleted negative comments about the post—is settling a federal First Amendment lawsuit for $41,000.
Sheriff Eric Watson wrote a post titled “He is risen…” on Easter, prompting a lawsuit by an atheist group and unnamed local residents in the eastern county of about 100,000. The deal calls for $15,000 in damages to be paid to the American Atheists organization and other plaintiffs in addition to $26,000 in legal fees.
“This settlement is a clear win for the plaintiffs, whose First Amendment rights to free speech and to be free of government establishment of religion were infringed upon,” Amanda Knief, the legal and policy director of American Atheists, said in a statement. “We are pleased the sheriff has agreed to do the right thing by no longer using this official government social media account to promote religion.”
The sheriff said it was not his decision to settle the case. He said he will maintain his own Facebook page.
“The people who visit will be able to know my personal opinions, expressions of faith, and other views in a totally unimpeded manner,” Watson told local media.
Watson said the original post that started the lawsuit “reflects my faith, which is founded on the belief that Jesus Christ died for my sins and the sins of mankind.”
The post said in part that “today is one of the most historic days, not only did Jesus die on the cross for our sins, but he rose on this day!…” according to the suit. (PDF) The county initially moved to have the case dismissed, arguing (PDF) …