Dr. Eric Walsh (Photo: First Liberty)

Dr. Eric Walsh (Photo: First Liberty)

The state of Georgia has agreed to pay $225,000 to settle a complaint that it illegally discriminated against a lay pastor who was fired by the state’s Department of Public Health, apparently because of the content of his sermons.

The announcement comes from First Liberty Institute, which represented Eric Walsh, M.D.

“I am grateful this trial has finally ended,” Walsh, an experienced health department administrator, said in a statement released through his lawyers. “It’s been a long, difficult journey, but it’s worth it to have my name cleared and to ensure that all Georgia government employees know they have religious liberty.”

Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for First Liberty, said: “This is a clear and resounding victory for religious freedom. We always knew the law was on our side, so we are pleased the state of Georgia agreed to settle this case and clear Dr. Walsh’s good name.”

Walsh sued after the state Department of Public Health dismissed him from his position when it discovered he was a lay pastor and had delivered sermons to his church during his off-duty time.

He had accepted, in 2014, the job as district health director with the DPH.

First Liberty said that a week later, a DPH official asked him to submit copies of sermons he had previously preached as a lay minister with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the next day he was fired.

“No one should be fired for simply expressing his religious beliefs,” Dys said.

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WND reported late in 2016 that the state was attempting several maneuvers to defeat the religious discrimination claim.

At the time, it was legally demanding his sermons and related notes, among other documents, and Walsh was refusing to provide them.

It was shortly after Walsh’s hiring that Lee Rudd, the state agency’s human resources director, assigned staff members to listen to the YouTube recordings of Walsh’s sermons.

It took only 48 hours for the state to fire him after hearing his message.

At that point, lawyers with First Liberty Institute joined forces with the Atlanta legal team of Parks, Chesin & Walbert to file a federal lawsuit against the state agency.

The state delivered a “Request for Production of Documents” that demanded once again, among a flood of other paperwork, copies of his sermon notes and transcripts, which Dys called an overreach.

Walsh in a statement released by his lawyers: “No government has the right to require a pastor to turn over his sermons. I cannot and will not give up my sermons unless I am forced to do so.”

State officials previously have declined to comment on the case.

The original state investigation of Walsh’s sermons apparently was sparked by one complaint from an official with a county Democratic Party who is a “gay activist.”

State officials also joked about informing Walsh of his firing.

The telephone call was between Dr. Patrick O’Neal, an agency official, and Kate Pfirman, an agency financial officer. The call was captured on an answering machine, which also caught their conversation after they thought they had hung up.

Pfirman said: “And I’m gonna be very – I’m gonna try to come off as very cold, because I don’t want to say very much. If I try to make it warm – I’ve thought that through, it’s gonna just not – there’s no warm way to say it anyway.”

Then there was laughter from both parties.

O’Neal then said to inform Walsh, “You’re out,” and there was another round of laughter.

“It’s very funny,” Pfirman said.

The voicemail:

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