The state of Georgia has agreed to pay out $225,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by a lay pastor who claims 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.
Dr. Eric Walsh expressed his gratitude in a statement issued to Faithwire on Thursday through his attorneys with the conservative First Liberty law firm, saying he’s happy the legal battle has concluded.
“I am grateful this trial has finally ended. It’s been a long, difficult journey,” Walsh said in the statement. “But it’s worth it to have my name cleared and to ensure that all Georgia government employees know they have religious liberty.”
Lawyer Jeremy Dys echoed this sentiment, declaring in a statement that the decision to settle will help clear his client’s “good name.” Dys also called the conclusion a “clear and resounding victory for religious freedom.”
“We are grateful that the State of Georgia agreed to settle the case and acknowledge the right of their employees to express their religious beliefs,” the attorney said. “No one should be fired for simply expressing his religious beliefs.”
As Faithwire previously reported, Walsh’s now-settled lawsuit against the state of Georgia claimed that he 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.
Adding to recent debate surrounding the case were reports that the government had requested Walsh’s sermons during the legal battle — something that really riled his supporters.
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.”
But it was reported back in November that the state government later backed away from that request.
“After a public outcry, the state attorney general’s office withdrew its request for sermons,” read a Facebook post published at the time by the Family Research Council. Tens of thousands also signed a petition in defense of Walsh.
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 alleged religious discrimination was the basis for him losing the position, the Department of Health initially gave 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 late last year, 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 before the settlement that he believes the state was simply trying to collect any and all evidence against Walsh.
“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 at the time.
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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