UPDATE: Judge makes first ruling in Facebook lawsuit against loc - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Judge makes first ruling in Facebook lawsuit against local sheriff

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CLEVELAND, TN (WRCB) -

The Facebook suit filed against Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson moved to a federal court in Knoxville on Wednesday for a preliminary hearing.

Last month, an Atheist organization sued Watson for posting his religious beliefs and censoring posts on the official Bradley County Sheriff's Office Facebook page.

READ MORE | Atheist group sues Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson

The Sheriff's Office has since deactivated its Facebook page entirely. A judge ruled in Watson's favor on Wednesday, saying he can continue posting as long as he's using his personal pages.

Controversy over Watson's pro-Christian Facebook posts inspired Pastor Rob Works to take a stand.

"This is a spiritual battle," Works told Eyewitness News.

Last week, Works hosted a community prayer rally in support of the Sheriff after he was sued by American Atheists last month.

"The intent of that was to put a face with what the feelings were," explained Works. "Sheriff Watson knew that folk were praying for him."

"This is not about stopping the Sheriff from his own personal religious beliefs or from being who he is," said Amanda Knief, American Atheists' National Legal and Public Policy Director.  "It's about (Watson) using his position as Sheriff as a platform for his Christianity, and from preventing residents in his own county from disagreeing with him."

The organization took issue with non-Christian posts being removed from the BCSO's Facebook page.

"That is government censorship," Knief said. "That's what we're standing up for."

"While they have the right to choose not to hear it, that doesn't take away our right to believe (Christianity). And it doesn't take away our right to practice it," Works said.

The BCSO Facebook page has since been deactivated. The Sheriff now posts on his own Facebook page, titled "Sheriff Eric Watson - Public Figure."

It says, "This page is not owned or monitored by the Sheriff's Office."

Recent posts thank Watson's Christian supporters for standing together.

A settlement has not been reached yet. The case is expected to go to trial in August.

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