Tens of thousands of people have responded to a lay pastor’s highly publicized refusal to hand over transcripts of his past church sermons to the state of Georgia, with more than 26,000 people signing a petition urging the governor to step in.
As Faithwire previously reported, Dr. Eric Walsh is a public health expert and Christian lay minister who alleges he’s the victim of “blatant religious discrimination,” saying a government job he was offered in 2014 was rescinded based on the apparently controversial contents of past Christian sermons he had preached.
After Walsh sued the state of Georgia earlier this year, officials filed a request for production of documents, asking him to furnish transcripts of his sermons — something he and his attorneys at First Liberty, a conservative law firm, are refusing.
“No government has the right to require a pastor to turn over his sermons,” Walsh has said of the request. “I cannot and will not give up my sermons unless I am forced to do so.”
And with Walsh’s story going viral this week, the Family Research Council, a Christian advocacy group, launched a petition in his favor, urging the public to send a message to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.
“I stand with Dr. Eric Walsh’s freedom to believe and live according to his deeply-held beliefs,” the petition text reads in part. “The demand that he hand over his sermons, sermon notes, and all pastoral documents including his Bible represents a government intrusion into the sanctity of the church, pastor’s study, and pulpit. ”
The text went on to say that such “heavy-handed tactics” hold the power to intimidate and silence people of faith, with the text encouraging Deal to step in to “correct this egregious overreach of the state into church affairs.”
Listen to Walsh and his attorney Jeremy Dys talk about the case in a recent interview with Family Research Council president Tony Perkins below:
As we previously reported, Dys told Faithwire on Thursday that the request for sermons, among other church related materials, carried the force of a subpoena.
And while Walsh currently refuses to hand the transcripts over, it’s possible the state of Georgia, whom he is suing, could ask a judge to mandate he do so. It’s unclear, though, where that currently stands in light of his recent refusal.
Walsh’s battle started after he accepted a position in May 2014 as district health director with Georgia’s Department of Public Health. He reportedly hit a major roadblock after 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 said his faith had nothing to do with their decision.
Walsh had previously resigned from his role as public health director in Pasadena, California, over furor surrounding sermons about Catholicism, homosexuality and evolution. But Georgia has said he was declined a position with their state after they found he had reportedly failed to disclose outside employment while working for Pasadena.
After Walsh sued Georgia in response to not being able to take the job he says he was offered, the defendant made the request for sermon materials.
“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.”
Read more about the case here.