Dr. Eric Walsh, a renowned public health expert who also serves as a lay minister, has announced he will not hand over his sermons to the State of Georgia despite facing legal action over his religious beliefs.
"No government has the right to require a pastor to turn over his sermons," said Dr. Walsh. "I cannot and will not give up my sermons unless I am forced to do so."
According to a press release made available to The Gospel Herald, in May 2014, the State of Georgia's Department of Public Health hired Dr. Walsh as a District Health Director. At the time of his hiring, Dr. Walsh also served as the pastor of a Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Shortly after Dr. Walsh accepted the offer, state officials asked him to submit recordings of his sermons for their review. After inspecting his sermons - in which the pastor expressed his opinions on health, marriage, sexuality, world religions, science and creationism - they fired him.
"When they went online to find things to damage my reputation or to cause the school to maybe not choose me, what they found wasn't any scandal, there was no embezzlement there was nothing like that, it was just a lot of sermons," Dr. Walsh told the Pasadena Star News. "They just took little snippets and of course by taking them out of context and framing a new context they really were able to frame me as a very terrible person. I was called in the papers a bigot, I was called a homophobe, I was called all kinds of names that weren't true."
Fox News notes that several groups, including Health Initiative, an Atlanta-based group committed to LGBT health issues, strongly opposed Welsh's hiring.
"Dr. Walsh's public displays of anti-gay propaganda and religious rhetoric will become symbols of the department and will further isolate an already vulnerable population. We believe this hire is detrimental to the wellbeing of our community, as well as to the effectiveness of the Department to conduct meaningful outreach to LGBT Georgians," Executive Director Ellis told the publication.
With the help of First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit advocate for religious liberty, Dr. Walsh decided to fight back, and filed a lawsuit against the State of Georgia, contending that no one should be fired over religious beliefs. Last month, in the process of building their legal case against Dr. Walsh, the State of Georgia served a Request for Production of Documents on Dr. Walsh, which requires the pastor to surrender copies of his sermon notes and transcripts. The request carries the same force of law as a subpoena.
"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 Dr. Walsh, asked. "It's clear the government fired Dr. Walsh over his religious beliefs, which is blatant religious discrimination."
He added, "The government is demanding that a pastor hand over copies of all of his sermons, including notes and transcripts, without limitation. This is an excessive display of the government overreaching its authority and violating the sanctity of the church."
Dr. Walsh has said he will refuse to bow to the government's demands, and speaking to the Pasadena Star News, said the experience brought him closer to his faith: "Persecution has a downside. It hurts. It's ugly, it's painful and it can be lonely and frightening," he said. "But if you allow God to place you in the fire, by default you will be refined. ... It's not easy, but the truth is it is a privilege for God to try us."