A Georgia pastor has filed a federal lawsuit alleging he was fired from the state’s Department of Public Health one day after handing over sermons at the agency’s request.
Dr. Eric Walsh contends that a job offer he accepted by DPH was suddenly terminated after the agency was given sermons he delivered on creationism, marriage, sexuality and other issues. The Seventh Day Adventist lay minister is represented by First Liberty, a prominent law firm specializing in religious liberty.
“No one in this country should be fired from their job for something that was said in a church or from a pulpit during a sermon,” First Liberty attorney Jeremy Dys told Fox News on Friday. “He was fired for something he said in a sermon. If the government is allowed to fire someone over what he said in his sermons, they can come after any of us for our beliefs on anything.”
Walsh’s lawsuit alleges that after he was hired as a district health director on May 7, 2014, investigators scoured the internet for public comments and took notes on his “religious beliefs and viewpoints on social, cultural and other matters of public concern as expressed in the sermons and other public addresses.”
DPH’s job offer was rescinded on May 16, 2014.
“I don’t believe I did anything wrong,” Walsh told the network. “This has been very painful for me. I really am a strong believer in the Constitution, but now I feel like maybe all these ideals and values that I was raised to believe – the ideals this country was founded upon – no longer exist.”
Nancy Nydam, acting director of communications for the Georgia Department of Public Health, emailed the Blaze on Thursday as Walsh’s story spread online.
“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,” Nydam said. “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 Walsh was rescinded.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.”
Readers at the Blaze said the uncanny timing of the termination indicated nothing more than a bureaucratic smokescreen.
“This is just a canard. The proof is that they asked for copies of his sermons. Why ask for them if they nothing to do with the decision to withdraw the offer?” asked reader Daithi.
“Slam dunk case. As an employer you can’t even insinuate that you know what their religion is during the hiring process. And being this is a government job? Wow. they’re in a lot of trouble,” added another reader.
Walsh claims DPH’s own counsel warned twice on May 15, 2014, that “under federal law Dr. Walsh’s religious beliefs could play no role in any employment decision by DPH,” Fox reported.
“Not only is there no smoking gun, there is every reason to believe, even from his detractors’ own words, that he is the excellent health director we believed he would be,” an unnamed DPH staffer said of the doctor in an internal memo, which was seen after lawyers filed a Freedom of Information Act request.
The “smoking gun” the employee referenced appears linked to Walsh’s departure from his position as the head of Pasadena, California’s, Public Health Department. After receiving an invitation to speak at Pasadena City College, Walsh was criticized by Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for comments linking the Catholic Church and Islam to Satan.
“I’m ticked that certain elected officials and certain appointed ones think these beliefs have no bearing on Walsh’s public post,” Donohue said April 30, 2014, the Pasadena Star-News reported.
Walsh’s lawsuit reignited debate over Georgia’s Free Exercise Protection Act, or HB757, which was vetoed by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal on March 28. The legislation would have provided protection for pastors and other faith-based organizations from attacks by LGBT activists and their allies.
“I have examined the protections this bill seeks to provide to religious organizations and people of faith I can find no examples that any of the things this bill seeks to protect us against have ever occurred in Georgia,” Deal said March 28. “I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia.”
Walsh’s legal team says his termination from DPH clearly demonstrates why such laws are necessary.
“Any law a state passes that helps protect religious liberty – especially a law that allows pastors the right to preach and not lose their jobs – is a law we would certainly apply in this case,” Dys told Fox.