Atheist Group Wins Settlement over Sheriff’s Religious Facebook Post

Sheriff Eric Watson via Chattanooga

An atheist group has reached a settlement in a First Amendment lawsuit over a sheriff’s religious-themed Facebook post. Now the organization, American Atheists, will get $15,000 while $26,000 will go to plaintiffs Joshua Stevens and Jane Doe.

From the group’s statement published on Thursday:

As part of settlement agreement, the new official Bradley County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page will not be used to “promote or further any religion, religious organization, religious event or religious belief.” Additionally, the sheriff’s office has decided to not allow any comments on this Facebook page, making it an informational Facebook page only. The office’s original Facebook page was deactivated earlier this year and will be permanently deactivated.

This is the result of a lawsuit filed in May against Bradley County, Tennessee and the sheriff.

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson had posted a religious-themed message on the sheriff office’s Facebook page, and American Atheists sent him a letter for making a religious message on a government-sponsored page.

“I respect the right of others to believe as they so choose, but my personal faith in Christ is absolute,” Watson told The Cleveland Daily Banner in an April report. “I will not alter or change my faith for any reason.”

According to the group, people started complaining about Watson’s actions on the Facebook page, but their posts were deleted and blocked. Meanwhile, pro-sheriff comments were left online. Cue lawsuit.

“The decision of the Local Government Insurance Pool to pay the amount which they agreed to pay was a business decision of the Local Government Insurance Pool and Not Mine,” Watson said in a statement to “IT WAS NOT COUNTY FUNDS and I maintained my denial of responsibility for any violation of the rights of the Plaintiffs.”

[Screengrab of Watson via Chattanooga Times Free Press]

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