A public health expert and Christian lay minister is refusing a request from the state of Georgia that he hand over transcripts of his past church sermons, as he alleges he’s the victim of “blatant religious discrimination.”
Dr. Eric Walsh sued the state of Georgia earlier this year after he said a government job he was offered in 2014 was rescinded based on the apparently controversial contents of Christian sermons he had preached.
Now, Walsh is pushing back against a request from the state that he hand over relevant sermon transcripts and notes.
Jeremy Dys, an attorney with First Liberty, a conservative legal firm, told Faithwire on Thursday that the request from the state — which apparently carries the same “force of law as a subpoena” — was made as part of the case’s discovery process.
“They are trying to find info they can use to build their case against Dr. Walsh,” he said. “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 Walsh is objecting to the request, leaving the state to potentially ask a judge to compel Walsh to comply with the sermon request; it’s currently unclear if such a request or mandate will be made.
To provide a bit more background on the case: The battle started after Walsh accepted a position in May 2014 as district health director with Georgia’s Department of Public Health. But he said staff with the agency asked that he submit sermons he had preached as a lay minister with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, according to First Liberty.
The law firm alleges that 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.
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.
Either way, the new request from the state following the filing of the lawsuit asks for documentation surrounding Walsh’s sermons as well as his arrangement with a well-known Christian denomination.
“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,” the legal request reads. “Please provide a copy of your sermon notes and/or transcripts.”
See this portion of the text below:
These lines of text have left Dys with some important questions about the case and, in particular, the sermon request. He told Faithwire, “If the sermons weren’t, in fact, part of why they fired him, why on Earth are they asking for sermons?”
The attorney also indicated that the agency purportedly requested Walsh’s sermons during the hiring process — something he said is also illegal.
Additionally, Dys mentioned a separate case involving a 2014 subpoena that required pastors in Houston, Texas, to submit their sermons for review — an incident that drew the ire of conservatives and Christians, alike, before the government rescinded the request, seemingly comparing the two stand-offs.
“It’s clear the government fired Dr. Walsh over his religious beliefs, which is blatant religious discrimination,” Dys added in a statement announcing Walsh’s refusal to hand over copies of his sermons.
It should be noted that this isn’t the first time Walsh has faced issues over his past sermons, as he made headlines in 2014 when he was public health director in Pasadena, California. As TheBlaze previously reported, he was invited to deliver a commencement address at Pasadena City College, but students and activists found out he had reportedly delivered past sermons calling homosexuality a sin, made comments about Catholicism and dubbed evolution “a religion created by Satan.”
Controversy quickly broke out and people called for Walsh’s resignation; he soon voluntarily left the role purportedly to take the position in Georgia. Read more about the case here.