By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A rural Texas county has reached a deal to remove cross image decals 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.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Andrew Hay)