Despite doling out $225,000 to a lay pastor who claims Georgia’s Department of Public Health illegally discriminated against him based on his faith, state officials continue to deny that the man’s sermons had anything to do with their decision not to hire him.
As Faithwire reported, Georgia agreed to pay Dr. Eric Walsh $225,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit he brought when the department hired him as a district health director, then backtracked on the offer after reviewing his sermons.
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Walsh has reportedly preached on Catholicism, homosexuality and evolution, among other topics — and those sermons have ushered in quite a bit of controversy for the public health official.
And The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has now reported that officials continue to double down on their arguments, refusing to agree with Walsh and his attorneys at First Liberty that the dismissal was related to Walsh’s faith.
Rather than an example of religious discrimination, Nancy Nydam, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health, said the employment decision was related to Walsh’s failure to report his pastoral employment — something that is reportedly required of prospective staffers.
“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,” Nydam told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a statement. “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.”
And for some more context on Nydam’s mention of a “previous public health employer” consider that, just before Walsh’s problems with Georgia began, he resigned from his role as public health director in Pasadena, California, over furor surrounding his sermons.
Either way, Nydam — who has kept the story consistent throughout the ordeal — said that the “violation” led to Walsh’s employment offer being rescinded, adding that he had told the Department of Public Health about his faith, but that his “religious beliefs had nothing to do with the decision to withdraw the offer.”
As previously reported, the case was quite complicated. It all started in 2014 when Walsh’s Georgia job offer was rescinded. He has maintained 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.
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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.
Despite the state’s claim that the case isn’t about religious discrimination, Walsh has expressed his relief over its conclusion and has said that “all Georgia government employees know they have religious liberty.” Additionally, Jeremy Dys, one of his attorneys, called the settlement 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,” Dys said. “No one should be fired for simply expressing his religious beliefs.”
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