Bradley County Sheriff to pay atheist group $41,000 after lawsuit

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson speaks with on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Cleveland, Tenn.

An atheists group has reached a $41,000 settlement with Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson over his use of his department's official Facebook to promote Christianity.

Bradley County will pay $15,000 in damages and $26,000 in legal fees, according to Nick Fish, national program director for the American Atheists group.

The group and a Bradley County resident identified only as Jane Doe sued Sheriff Watson in May, alleging that he used the government web page to promote Christianity, and deleted the comments of anyone critical of his office or his religion.

The atheists group argued that Watson and the sheriff's office violated the First Amendment when they used a government-run web page to promote a particular religion and blocked the freedom of speech of those who were critical of that religion.

In the complaint, Doe alleged that comments on the web page supportive of Christianity or the sheriff's office were left alone, while comments supporting atheism or criticizing the sheriff's office were deleted.