Doctor-pastor sues Georgia after sermons cost him new job

Religious Liberty
by Samantha Gobba
Posted 4/21/16, 03:50 pm

A public health expert and Seventh-Day Adventist preacher who lost a job offer from the State of Georgia over sermons posted to YouTube is suing for discrimination.

A week after offering Eric Walsh a job in 2014 as district health director for Northwest Georgia, state officials combed through his online sermons, which allegedly ranged from topics such as the sin of homosexuality to the corrupting influence of pop culture. They met together the following morning, and revoked his job offer the next day.

Walsh holds a medical degree and a doctorate in public health, served on President Barack Obama’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, and until early 2014 was director of the Public Health Department in Pasadena, Calif. In 2013, he opened California’s first city-run dental clinic for patients with HIV/AIDS.

He didn’t lose the Georgia job for any dearth of work-related performance or for a lack of credentials, his attorney, Jeremy Dys with First Liberty Institute, told me. In fact, at the time of his hire, fellow officials “were highly impressed by Dr. Walsh.”

Emails obtained by First Liberty Institute show one official “begging and lobbying the commissioner for the Department of Public Health for more money in the budget to pay this guy because, ‘We’re not going to find a better candidate like this any time soon,’” Dys said.

But on May 14, 2014, human resources director Lee Rudd emailed state employees about the sermons.

“OK … I have an assignment for several of us,” he wrote. “We have to listen to his sermons on YouTube tonight. If we take a couple of hours each, then we should cover our bases.”

Two days later, Walsh was looking for another job.

“I don’t know what they read in those sermons, and it doesn’t matter. They were sermons, and it could have just been that they didn’t like him preaching, period. That’s illegal,” Dys told me. 

Walsh had applied to work in Georgia after stepping down from his position in Pasadena due to controversy surrounding his sermons.

Pasadena City College invited Walsh to speak at its 2014 commencement, after dis-inviting openly gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. Angry students began combing through Walsh’s sermons and posting the content on social media.

“They just took little snippets, and of course by taking them out of context and framing a new context, they were able to frame me as a very terrible person,” Walsh said in a later sermon. “I was called in the papers a bigot, I was called a homophobe. I was called all kinds of names that simply weren’t true. And what was shocking, as we’ll talk about, is that many of the simple, fundamental Christian things that Christians of all denominations believe became fodder to burn and to fire against me.”

The media storm that followed caught Walsh completely off guard, and he declined the college’s invitation. The college then re-invited Black to speak. 

Meanwhile, Pasadena City Manager Michael Beck placed Walsh on paid administrative leave “to complete an inquiry into statements made by him in his private capacity and to assess the impact those statements might have on his ability to effectively lead the city’s Public Health Department.”

Walsh resigned from his position on May 14, the day Rudd directed Georgia employees to scour his sermons. Two days later, he lost the job he was supposed to start in June, 2014.

After that, Walsh spent a year working as a medical missionary in Guam, Dys told me, and now works as a medical doctor in California. But his first passion is public health, and in its lawsuit, First Liberty Institute has asked for his re-instatement.

The implications for his job loss are huge, Dys said.

“If Dr. Walsh’s case is going to stand, that means that the sermon notes anybody takes on a Sunday, or perhaps the Sunday School lesson you created for the 6-year-olds in your place of worship, now those are going to be fair game for your annual review,” Dys said. “If the government can fire Dr. Walsh for the content of his sermons, regardless of what that content is, they can come after any of us for any of our beliefs on anything.”

Samantha Gobba

Samantha reports on the pro-life movement for WORLD Digital.

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  •  Wilebo's picture
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    You will be assimilated or annihilated. As an American I am very much disappointed. As a follower of Christ, I am not surprised.

  • Laneygirl
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    This is the Devolution of the world until Jesus comes back. Thanks be to God that He has already overcome the world.One thing we might do is object to the labeling: we are not homophobic. We are not afraid of homosexuals. 

  • Lizards88
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    Stand Fast! Jesus Christ is the only King! The only thing that really matters is Him!

  • DBMiller
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    DakotaLutheran, According to the story he resigned after he had been accepted in the new position. This seems like a clear case of discrimination. If after offering someone a job they had discovered that he had (fill in the blank--resisted the draft, engaged in extramarital or homosexual behavior, belonged to al Qaida or the communist party, preferred to use the girls bathroom, etc) then rescinded his offer of employment, the ACLU would have made this national headlines and every news network would flood the airwaves with every possible angle on the story (OK, in some of these scenarios anyway; you get the idea). This is the law in the United States of America. Paul exercised his rights as a Roman citizen more than once, illustrating that we don't always have to roll over and surrender. As Christians we sometimes suffer from evil, trusting vengeance to God, but we are also called to resist the devil. Rendering to Caesar what is caesar's is not necessarily limited to coinage, and our system of laws demands justice for all. Rendering  justice to all, including believers, should be reasonable and appropriate for believers to pursue as a proper function of the state. 

  • DakotaLutheran
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    Either Georgia HR are idiots or they must have already known about this controversy. After all, they must have known that he resigned from his last job. Surely anyone with anything but air between their ears would want to know why. I suspect that when word got out that he was going to be hired someone or group mounted resistance. It was that resistance that resulted in the job offer being revoked. The problem is that it makes sense. No one wants a public figure who is going to attract controversy. It would undermine his ability to do the job you are hiring him for. The only thing new about this is the cause for public shame. Not too long ago extramarital affairs or homosexuality would have been sufficient to dismiss a public figure from their job. If you think this is an appropriate function of society, then when societal norms change what should we think of this function? Perhaps we need to reconsider this function in the light of John 8:1-11. 

  • DS Gerlach
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    Anything we post online can and will be used against us in court.  Let's just make sure it's for the sake of the Kingdom and not because we're acting irresponsibly.  They hated Jesus, they'll hate us.  They persecuted Jesus, they'll persecute us.  They killed Jesus, they'll kill us.  Let's not act surprised when we encounter spiritual and cultural opposition.  

  • Bill Taylor
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    Well he should.  It's about time we traditionalists learned how to wage lawfare against those who attack us.  After all, it was Judicial Watch which uncovered Hillary's emails, not our representatives in Washington.

  • Janet S
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    The future of Christians in America.

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    Normally I would say, "Move on to the next town."  But this is not normal, because the prospective employer reversed its hiring decision based on YouTube videos of his sermons.  This has directly to do with the First Amendment.  So I think that it is worth the fight.

  • creekmama
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    In spite of all of his good work with HIV/AIDS patients, they're painting this guy as a bigot and a hater?  Unbelievable!