ATLANTA — Dr. Eric Walsh and his attorney from the First Liberty Institute, Jeremy Dys, held a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol this afternoon. Dr. Walsh announced he would not hand over his sermons to the state even though the state government has served him with legal papers requiring him to surrender copies of his sermon notes and transcripts.
Dr. Walsh was fired by the State of Georgia for his religious beliefs and preaching the truth of God’s Word. A decade ago no one could have imagined such high-handed, imperious, despotic action in what was once “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” However, it has happened in Atlanta, the city that was once the buckle on the Bible belt.
By the way, Eric Walsh is an expert in public health with multiple advanced degrees. He has served as the director of the City of Pasadena’s Public Health Department and was appointed to President Obama’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDs. In May 2014, the State of Georgia’s Department of Public Health hired Dr. Walsh as a District Health Director. Walsh also serves his church as a lay minister.
Dys stated, “Dr. Walsh was vetted very carefully by those who interviewed him for the position with the Georgia Department of Public Health. He was informed that he was the ‘most qualified’ person for the job. The department even looked for more money than the budget had allocated for his salary in order to secure his services.”
However, soon after the state government hired the health professional they gave him the pink slip, or the boot. They showed him the door, discontinued the relationship, created an involuntary separation, negotiated a departure, or just gave him his un-assignment papers. In other words, he was fired!
And would you like to know why? He was terminated from his job for preaching the Bible in his church. The Georgia Department of Public Health alleged he was fired for delivering sermons on issues ranging from homosexuality to evolution. Dys explained, “It is clear the government fired Dr. Walsh over his religious beliefs, which is blatant religious discrimination.”
Beliefs under scrutiny, freedom under threat
By firing Walsh over his religious beliefs, the government violated his First Amendment rights. Dr. Walsh was not fired for something he said or did at work, but for something he said in a sermon outside work hours. The picture of state officials divvying up a pastor’s sermons and going over them with a fine-tooth comb should send chills up the spine of every American.
Dr. Walsh responded to the termination by filing a federal lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Public Health claiming that he was unjustly released from his employment.
Jeremy Dys, First Liberty attorney who is defending Walsh in the lawsuit, stated, “No one in this country should be fired from their job for something that was said in a church from a pulpit during a sermon. If the government is allowed to fire someone over what he said in his sermons, they can come after any of us for our beliefs on anything. The state has no business snooping around in a pastor’s study looking for sermons.”
Walsh reportedly told Dys, “I don’t believe I did anything wrong. This has been very painful for me. I really am a strong believer in the Constitution. But now I feel like maybe all these ideals and values I was raised to believe – the ideals the country was founded upon – no longer exist.”
Walsh was hired on May 7, 2014, but government workers began investigating his religious activities. The lawsuit states, “DPH officers and other employees spent hours reviewing these and other of Dr. Walsh’s sermons and other public addresses available online, analyzing and taking notes on his religious beliefs and viewpoints on social, cultural, and other matters of public concern as expressed in the sermons and other public addresses.”
Problems in Houston, now Atlanta
The news swirling around Dr. Walsh is reminiscence of a similar situation that occurred in Houston in 2014. Houston Mayor Annise Parker, a lesbian, subpoenaed sermons from a group of Houston pastors who opposed an ordinance that allowed men claiming to be women to enter women’s bathrooms and inflict harm as sexual predators. The subpoena in question sought “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to the ordinance.”
The yearlong battle over the gay and lesbian legislation turned into a costly, ugly war of words between Parker and social conservatives. It ended in November 2015 when voters easily repealed an ordinance that attracted national attention and that, if passed, could have placed women and girls in harm’s way.
One of the Houston pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed was Reverend David Welch, who traveled from Texas to Atlanta to speak at the press conference. Welch asked, “Is this Nazi Germany? Is this Communist Russia? Is this North Korea? This is supposed to be the land of liberty and yet, ‘the devil has gone down to Georgia to steal sermons.’”
An example from abroad
Even more appalling is that what is happening in Georgia sounds frighteningly like what is happening in Communist Russia where just weeks ago Baptist missionary pastor Donald Ossewaarde was charged under the new “Yarovaya” anti-terror laws for evangelizing outside a church or designated religious center.
Ossewaarde held religious services in his home and posted advertisements for the service on bulletin boards throughout the town. The pastor was fined the equivalent of $630 for violating what is also known as the “anti-sharing beliefs amendment.”
Three Russian policemen came into the house where Ossewaarde and his small flock were worshipping and charged him with violating the new law. He was fingerprinted and told he needed to supply them with a complete set of documents (sermons) in case any questions were asked.
Things for Georgia Baptists to ponder
Here are some of the issues of concern for Georgians:
- The state insisted that they did not fire Dr. Walsh over his sermons. If that’s true, why are they demanding copies of his sermons now?
- The government wants a pastor to hand over copies of all of his sermons, including notes and transcripts, with absolutely zero limitations. This is an excessive display of government overreaching its authority.
- The State of Georgia is flagrantly intruding upon the sanctity of the church. They’ve made a terrible mistake and it cannot go unanswered.
- If the government is allowed to bully their way into Dr. Walsh’s pulpit and demand his sermon notes, what part of the church can be considered safe from government intrusion?
- Governor Nathan Deal vetoed the religious liberty bill earlier this year. He could reinstate Dr. Walsh and stop this violation of First Amendment rights in one minute, but by allowing the sermons to be subpoenaed the governor is showing his true colors. It is shameful.
- Governor Deal appointed Chris Carr to succeed Sam Olens as the state’s attorney general immediately after Olens accepted the role of president of Kennesaw State University. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed endorsed Carr. Since Reed fired Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran, what does his endorsement say about Deal’s appointment and Carr’s stand on religious liberty?
- Is any Christian, even Sunday School teachers, employed by the State of Georgia safe from government interference if they teach or preach God’s Word or express their faith?
- When Houston Mayor Annise Parker subpoenaed those pastors for their sermons former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee called upon every pastor in America to send their sermons and Bibles to Parker. Stay tuned! We may want to do the same.
- Governor Nathan Deal vetoed the religious liberty bill because he said he did not see any abuse of religious liberty in Georgia. Now his administration is guilty of violating someone’s religious freedom. He alone could put a stop to this whole fiasco if he only would.