The state of Georgia has reportedly dropped its court request for a lay minister to hand over copies of his sermon transcripts, though the attorney general’s office is apparently still requesting that he “turn over a number of things which should be off-limits,” according to the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group.
These requests were made in a response to a lawsuit filed by Dr. Eric Walsh, a public health expert who has also served as a Christian lay pastor. In recent days, there has been strong public reaction to the government’s request for copies of the sermons, as Faithwire previously reported.
At the center of the debate is the fact that Walsh is currently suing the state of Georgia over the claim he faced “blatant religious discrimination” when the Department of Health hired him as a district health director, then backtracked on the offer after reviewing his sermons; he has reportedly preached on Catholicism, homosexuality and evolution, among other topics.
“After a public outcry, the state attorney general’s office withdrew its request for sermons,” read a Facebook post published this week from the Family Research Council.
As previously reported, a request for production of documents from the state government — part of the discovery process in the case — read, in part: “Please produce all documents relating to your service as a pastor, including, but not limited to, any contract you have or have had with the Seventh Day Adventist Church or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates. Please provide a copy of your sermon notes and/or transcripts.”
While the controversial sermon portion of that text has reportedly been dropped from the case, the government continues to seek Walsh’s ministerial credentials, proof that he worked as a pastor with the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, any contracts he has had with the denomination and how much he has been compensated for his sermons.
The Family Research Council maintains that these requests are — much like the now-dropped sermon demands — inappropriate and unwarranted.
“Such intrusive government overreach is completely unacceptable. Our freedoms don’t permit the state to assess a minister’s credentials,” read the Family Research Council’s statement on the matter. “The government may not inquire into discussions and agreements between a religious denomination and its leader. And what legitimate reason could the state have for wanting to know how much (if anything) Dr. Walsh was paid for preaching?”
Nearly 40,000 people have signed a petition urging Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, to step in on Walsh’s behalf.
As previously reported, Walsh’s case started in 2014 when he claims his Georgia job offer was rescinded based on the apparently controversial contents of Christian sermons he had preached. Walsh maintains that, after being given the job as health director, staff with the Georgia Department of Public Health asked him to submit sermons he had preached as a lay minister with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, according to First Liberty.
The law firm alleges Walsh was fired just two days after furnishing those sermons, with emails purportedly showing staff at the agency dividing up the sermons and parsing through their contents. And, as the Christian Post noted, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars basing employment decision on a person’s religious beliefs.
But while Walsh and his attorneys allege religious discrimination was the basis for him losing the position, the Department of Health has given a very different explanation.
Listen to Walsh discuss his case below:
A spokeswoman for the department declined to comment to Faithwire on the pending legal case when reached for comment on Thursday, but here’s what she told TheBlaze back in April:
Georgia Department of Public Health policy requires the disclosure and written approval of secondary employment held by its employees. Dr. Walsh was extended a conditional offer of employment by DPH, subject to passing a routine background check. During the background check process, DPH learned Dr. Walsh failed to disclose outside employment to his previous public health employer, which also was in violation of California law. Due to violation of both California state law and DPH policy, the offer to Dr. Walsh was rescinded. During his interview, Dr. Walsh disclosed his religious beliefs to DPH staff and indicated that he preached at his church in California. Dr. Walsh’s religious beliefs had nothing to do with the decision to withdraw the offer.
At least one report said that the government believed Walsh had failed to report his salary from his church activity as well as from a medical foundation, as was reportedly required by disclosure laws.
But First Liberty attorney Jeremy Dys told Faithwire he believes the state is simply trying to collect any and all evidence against Walsh, with the public health expert and pastor doubling down last week and proclaiming that he had no intentions of turning over his sermons.
“What the state of Georgia is doing here is basically knocking down the door of Mr. Walsh’s study, ransacking through his things in some kind of desperate effort to justify their illegal behavior,” Dys said.
It should be noted that, just before Walsh’s problems with Georgia began, he resigned from his role as public health director in Pasadena, California, over furor surrounding sermons about Catholicism, homosexuality and evolution.
(H/T: Christian Post)
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