A Christian pastor is refusing a state order to surrender transcripts of sermons he gave, after Georgia officials sought records and notes concerning his homilies in connection with a discrimination suit.
Dr. Eric Walsh, a public health professional and veteran of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDs, was hired as a district director by the Georgia Department of Public Health in May 2014. Walsh is also an associate pastor at his Seventh Day Adventist church.
One week after he was hired, a DPH human resources official sent an email to colleagues soliciting help in reviewing Walsh’s sermons, many of which were available on YouTube. The sermons, though largely in accordance with historic Christian belief, contain controversial statements concerning social and cultural controversies like homosexuality, some of which implicate his work as a public health official. He also polemicized against Islam, Catholicism and evolution.
The day after the email was sent, DPH officials convened a meeting to discuss his employment. His offer of employment was rescinded the next day.
Walsh brought a claim against the DPH with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging religious discrimination. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits the government from dismissing employees because of their religious beliefs. Those protections are stronger when the conduct in question concerns a minister acting in his official capacity outside the workplace. He also alleges several constitutional violations. EEOC approved the suit, which will proceed in federal court in Atlanta. (RELATED: Christian Coach Suing School That Demanded He Stop Praying)
DPH strongly disputes that Walsh was dismissed because of his religious convictions or his work as a pastor. In response to the complaint, the department issued a Request for Production of Documents, the legal equivalent of a subpoena, seeking transcripts of many of his sermons. Walsh announced through his attorneys at First Liberty, the public interest law firm which represents him, that he will not surrender any records in connection with his sermons on Wednesday.
“The state insists that it did not fire Dr. Walsh over his religious beliefs or sermons. If that’s true, why is it demanding copies of his sermons now?” Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute and counsel for Walsh, said in a statement. “It’s clear the government fired Dr. Walsh over his religious beliefs, which is blatant religious discrimination.”
“No government has the right to require a pastor to turn over his sermons,” said Walsh, according to reports. “I cannot and will not give up my sermons unless I am forced to do so.”
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