Pastor Stands Firm Against Government Effort to See Sermons, Obtain His Personal Bible
A Seventh-day Adventist pastor who says he was fired from a job with the state of Georgia said on Thursday he won’t turn over his sermons, Bible and other materials that state officials say are necessary for the investigative portion of a lawsuit he has filed against the state.
Speaking to The Stream shortly after a press conference with numerous religious liberty leaders who support Dr. Eric Walsh, First Liberty Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys said that “it’s unconstitutional” for the state “to now demand he hand over all of his sermons.”
“[O]ur question is, if they didn’t fire him over his sermons, then why are they asking for his sermons now?” Dys, who is representing Walsh, continued. “Clearly, their reason for firing Dr. Walsh was related to his sermons, otherwise they would not be asking for the sermons now. It was wrong for them to even ask for his sermons the first time, [and] it was illegal for them to fire him over his beliefs. …”
According to case summary by First Liberty Institute, Walsh was hired by the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) in 2014. Holding doctorates in medicine and in public health, Walsh also has an extensive background in working with and for the public, including serving as director of Pasadena, California’s Public Health Department.
It was this resume that convinced officials to hire Walsh, and according to an e-mail even possibly spend “a few extra bucks” on his salary. But it was weekend pastoral work that Walsh and his attorney say led to Walsh’s firing two months later. An e-mail procured by First Liberty shows that the Director of DPH’s Human Resources office and at least two colleagues spent “hours” going through his sermons on YouTube, shortly before Walsh was released.
Walsh and First Liberty have filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging religious discrimination. The state is now attempting to force Walsh to turn over all documents it says are related to the case, including sermons, notes and pastoral training materials.
Dys said this demand violates the law and is unnecessary. “It’s illegal for the government to fire someone over their religious beliefs. The state knows this and they have repeatedly denied that they fired Dr. Walsh over his sermons.”
While Dys admitted there is no explicit evidence of religious discrimination in Walsh’s release, his group believes the motive for Walsh’s firing is clear. “Our primary evidence is the timeline. They asked for his sermons, then reviewed them, then fired him two days later. This is despite the fact that they all agreed he was the best candidate and even proposed moving money around in the budget to make sure he would take the job. Also, the fact that they are asking for the sermons proves our point that this really is just thinly veiled religious discrimination.”
The Department of Public Health declined to comment to The Stream on the case due to its ongoing nature, and recommended reaching out to the state Attorney General’s office. The Stream was unable to reach a spokesperson at the Attorney General’s office.
For more on Walsh’s case, see The Stream’s Rachel Alexander’s interview with both Dys and Walsh here.