The Eric Walsh Test: Now Even the Weaker ‘Freedom of Worship’ Standard is Threatened

In this video screengrab, Dr. Eric Walsh discusses having a job offer rescinded, after already being accepted, due to sermons he gave at his church.

By George Yancey Published on April 28, 2016

I bow to nobody as a protector of religious freedom and a critic of Christianophobia in our society. But I have done so with two caveats. First, I do not like to hear American Christians talk about being “persecuted.” A quick look at what is happening in the Middle East shows what happens when persecution really occurs. Second, my research indicates that people who hate Christians are willing to allow religious activities in churches and homes, so I have told Christians to stop arguing that people with Christianophobia are going to interfere with their churches.

I still maintain the first caveat; however, the case of Eric Walsh is making me reconsider the second. As you may know, Eric Walsh is the lay pastor who was fired from the Georgia Department of Public Health for his sermons on homosexuality. Let’s put this as simply as possible. He was fired, or sanctioned by the government, for what he did in his church.

Those who fired him are now attempting to hide this with an excuse related to his “dishonesty” that I find impossible to believe. The reality is, they asked him for his sermons before firing him. When public universities consider candidates for academic positions, we know not to ask about their religious beliefs, family status or sexual preference, because we do not want those things to factor in any way in our hiring decisions. The same goes for most other organizations. The fact that they asked for his sermons is evidence that they are punishing him for what he preached in his own church.

When I did my research on Christianophobia, many survey respondents stated that they were okay with whatever Christians did in their own churches. Although they would claim otherwise, they really do not support freedom of religion since they want religious practice kept within the confines of homes and churches. What they have enunciated is really just the right to freedom of worship: churches can be sanctuaries where Christians can practice their faith, but church and home are the only places religion should be practiced. I reject this notion. I see this focus on freedom of worship as an unfair attempt to limit Christians in ways people would not limit other groups that want to influence society. However, now it seems that some individuals may not even be willing to grant this wrongly limited notion of freedom of worship.

When the government sanctions a person for what they do in church, then we are in dangerous territory, coming close to government determining what is an acceptable religious belief and what is not. Therefore now it’s not just freedom of religion but freedom of worship being opposed.

Will freedom of worship retain society’s support? The Eric Walsh situation may be the test that will tell us. No matter how this case comes out legally, the way opponents of religious freedom handle this situation will show whether they believe in freedom of worship to the same degree they support government’s right to force a baker to bake a cake. Will they defend Walsh’s job and career the way they have defended the right of a person to use the restroom of his or her choice?

Marvel and Disney have threatened boycotts, stating that they are inclusive companies that do not want to discriminate against others. Will they be consistent in that practice? Will they threaten boycotts over real religious discrimination? The same challenge awaits all the companies that have boycotted or threatened to boycott Georgia and North Carolina. They have staked positions for themselves as defenders of human rights. That means they’ll have to decide whether to stand for all human rights or just their friends’ rights. We know the lengths these companies will go to interfere with governments over issues of sexual freedom. Now let’s see if they will go to those same lengths to interfere with governments over issues of freedom of worship.

The Eric Walsh case puts the state’s governor to the test, too. Before vetoing it’s religious freedom bill, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said, “Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to.” Now he will show whether he meant that, or whether it was an empty statement intended merely to ease some of the critique he faced with the bill’s veto. Apparently his own state government has decided they do not want to work side by side with “that” kind of Christian. It would be reassuring if he would step in proactively to correct this situation. He could show that he at least supports freedom of worship, if not freedom of religion.

I would say that every group that has joined in protest against religious freedom bills, or has boycotted states (or threatened boycotts) over “civil rights” issues should be asked if they support the right of Christians to worship according to their beliefs. If they say yes, then the truth of that claim can be shown by their response to Eric Walsh.

The principle is clear: Do not claim you support freedom of worship and then say nothing when the government punishes a pastor for his sermons. I will be watching these groups’ actions to see how they deal with the Eric Walsh test — whether they really believe what they say, or whether they’re only saying it. I do not think I will be the only one watching.

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  • Noneya

    Um, what? There is a thing called soft persecution and it can come in many forms. It’s a precursor to hard persecution which pretty much only comes bloody. He seems surprised that Christianophobia is starting to turn ugly. Walsh was denied a job, Christians are losing their businesses, Davis was jailed and the list is growing.

    Also, the tactic of confronting the left on the battlefield of their choosing only draws us further into the darkness of progressive fascism. He’s found himself trying to defend the false claim of “freedom of worship”. We have the right of free exercise of our religion. Worship is only a tenant of exercising our religion. You start defending the right to worship you will soon find yourself defending the right to believe. After that you will be begging to live.

    I feel Walsh needs defending, but if this article is the best those defending him can do then prepare for the underground my fellow Christian brothers and sisters. Time to get back to the basics.

    • Dr. Yancey is not defending Walsh, he’s pointing out probable hypocrisy. In doing so, he is comparing liberals’ and progressives’ words with their actions. It seems to me that a lot of deterioration which leads to violence happens bit-by-bit, and Dr. Yancey is very carefully exploring a probable section of that bit-by-bit. But instead of appreciating this, you criticize it.

      You realize that as Dr. Yancey is doing the above, you can go out and argue that ‘freedom of worship’ is a far cry from ‘freedom of religion’, right? Battles are usually best fought with a variety of weaponry, not just a single type.

      • Noneya

        He is defending him. I don’t know how else to describe him writing an article bringing up Walsh being discriminated against. He is raising awareness which I believe is a form of defense.

        I understand that you need more than one weapon in a battle, but I was just disagreeing with this method of reasoning. I think it legitimizes the left’side false “freedom of worship” nonsense.

        My main point of disagreement was with his first caveat. I usually agree with his articles and I just found this one to be a bit weak.

        • Joan Liut

          I agree with you about the first caveat. Obviously, the persecution here is not equal to what it is in Africa or the Middle East, but there can be differing degrees of the same thing. Abuse can be subtle or savage. Persecution is abuse, on a large scale.

    • rick_w55

      But “freedom of religion” is taken to be the equivalent of “freedom of worship” since it is an accepted cultural attitude that religion is a personal and private thing. It doesn’t touch on the outside world. So there is no advantage in talking about freedom of religion unless you first lay the groundwork of helping people understand that religion isn’t merely a private matter.

      • Noneya

        That’s why I usually point out the “free exercise” portion. It makes it easier to explain the difference

  • rick_w55

    I think the difference may be this. You spoke of “the right to freedom of worship: churches can be sanctuaries where Christians can practice their faith.” Maybe secularists see a difference between the *activity* of worship and what people *believe* and interpret the law in keeping with that distinction. Remember that not too long ago Atlanta’s fire chief was fired because of his beliefs about homosexuality and same-sex marriage and the publication of those beliefs in a devotional. It is the *belief* that matters no matter where or how it is expressed. Eric Walsh showed what he believes in his sermons, and that is enough.

    So religious practice is acceptable as long as it’s done in your home or in your churches and it doesn’t touch on anything having to do with the real world around us. Because homosexual practice and same-sex marriage and even transgenderism are beliefs and practices held with an “of course this is right” attitude, anyone who doesn’t agree is obviously wrong and even dangerous (note how conservative views, which have held sway for centuries up until the last couple of decades, are characterized as “controversial” when they make the news: there’s nothing controversial anymore about gay rights and same-sex marriage). For such people it’s like having somebody in public office say that he believes in child labor or in the rights of pedophiles. These are unacceptable beliefs, and we don’t want anyone who holds such beliefs in any kind of a prominent position or one that is supported by taxpayer dollars. Likewise now conservative beliefs about homosexuality and related issues.

    So engage in your religious practice all you want, just don’t make the mistake of thinking that religion has anything to do with the real world.

    • paul

      Are you seriously arguing that anyone in public employment can be fired for his “beliefs”, even if that individual does not manifest those beliefs in his place of employment? “We don’t want anyone who holds such beliefs in any kind of prominent position or one that is funded by taxpayer dollars.”…who exactly is “we” anyway? You don’t speak for me, and I pay taxes too. As long as a public employee does not act on his personal beliefs to the detriment of a protected group, I do not believe he should be sanctioned by the loss of his job.
      Based on your rationale, no Islamic, Orthodox Jew, Christian (or any of a number of other faiths) could ever hold a public job. For that matter, a secularist who didn’t approve of homosexuality could not hold such a job either. Simply because they don’t share your way of thinking. “You can only hold a public job if you agree with the way I think.” That is a frightening concept indeed.
      There is a distinction between what people might think and what they may actually do in the workplace, and that distinction is important in supporting the basis for an adverse employment action. The Georgia Department of Health has probably violated Title VII, the RFRA, 42 USC Sec. 1983, 42 USC Sec. 1985, and possibly a few more laws as well. This is unacceptable.
      And for what it is worth, I am an agnostic.

  • Peter

    Georgia Constitution: Art 1 Bill of Rights

    Paragraph III. Freedom of conscience. Each person has the
    natural and inalienable right to worship God, each according to the
    dictates of that person’s own conscience; and no human authority should,
    in any case, control or interfere with such right of conscience.

    Paragraph IV. Religious opinions; freedom of religion. No
    inhabitant of this state shall be molested in person or property or be
    prohibited from holding any public office or trust on account of
    religious opinions; but the right of freedom of religion shall not be so
    construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices
    inconsistent with the peace and safety of the state.

    The organized crime called the state of Georgia is violating Dr Walsh’s constitutionally protected religious RIGHTS!

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