Atheist group sues Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Atheist group sues Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson

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BRADLEY COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

An Atheist group and an anonymous Bradley County woman are suing Sheriff Eric Watson for alleged Facebook censorship. They claim their First Amendment rights were violated.

American Atheists Inc. said the lawsuit is not an attack on the Sheriff's religion or Christianity. They said it's about protecting citizens' First Amendment rights.

It started with a Bradley County Sheriff's Office Facebook post on Easter Sunday with a cross that read "He Is Risen." Since then, Watson has been under fire by the Atheist group.

"We have a problem when the government is using taxpayer money to promote one particular religion," said Nick Fish, American Atheists.

Last month, the group sent a letter to Watson, asking him to stop promoting Christianity on the department's Facebook page.

Soon after, they sent a second letter after residents said their pro-Atheist posts were being deleted and their accounts were blocked.

"We don't just go around looking for issues. People come to us and say, 'Hey, I'm a member of this community, and this is a problem to me','" Fish said.

American Atheists and "Jane Doe" are suing the Sheriff and the county, claiming their First Amendment rights were violated.

READ MORE | UPDATE: Atheist group sues Bradley Co. Sheriff Watson for Facebook censorship

"If you're a Baptist, you don't want the government giving special treatment just to Catholics," Fish explained. "If you're Atheist, you don't want the government giving special treatment to any particular religion."

"It's a very, very, very fine line that government officials have to comply with," said Cleveland attorney James Logan.

He said cases like this one can be difficult to prove because laws involving social media are constantly developing.

"This case is going to be very fact-specific," he said. "The question of whether or not folk were really mistreated by a government official in the first instance."

The suit asks a judge to order the Sheriff to stop the activity and pay out monetary damages and attorney's fees.

"I think (the plaintiffs) have the burden of proof of showing that they've been harmed in some fashion," Logan said.

Watson said in a statement on Monday morning that he had not been officially notified of a lawsuit. His office will be ready to respond after he is officially served.

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