Free to Believe

Eric Walsh

EricWalsh

Georgia Department of Public Health: Atlanta, Georgia

By all accounts, Dr. Eric Walsh is “a renowned public health expert” and was the perfect candidate for a district health director position with the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH). “He is the excellent health director we believed he would be,” one staffer who was involved in Walsh’s hiring noted.

But things quickly changed after Walsh was hired on May 7, 2014. Once the DPH found out about Dr. Walsh’s activities as a Seventh Day Adventist lay minister, they began to investigate the content of the sermons that he had preached in the past, which included topics such as marriage, sexuality, world religions, and more.

On May 16, the DPH rescinded Dr. Walsh’s job offer, which he had already accepted. In documents that were obtained by First Liberty, the firm that is now representing Walsh, the DPH’s own counsel stated that “under federal law Dr. Walsh’s religious beliefs could play no role in any employment decision by DPH.” In other documents, at least one DPH staffer noted that “if we do not hire this applicant on the basis of the evidence of job performance and disqualify him on the basis of discrimination by those who seek to advance their own agenda and do him harm, I believe we are no better than they are.” Dr. Walsh was terminated days later.

“He was fired for something he said in a sermon,” Walsh’s attorney Jeremy Dys says. “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.” First Liberty has filed a lawsuit against the DPH on Walsh’s behalf, charging the agency with “religious discrimination and retaliation.”

“I don’t believe I did anything wrong,” Dr. Walsh says. “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 that I was raised to believe—the ideals the country was founded upon—no longer exist.”

UPDATE: In February 2017, Walsh and the Georgia Department of Public Health reached a $225,000 settlement in his favor. "Family Research Council was pleased to stand with Dr. Walsh, and will do so for any pastor who is targeted by the government because of what is said in the pulpit," said FRC President Tony Perkins.

Photo credit: Courtesy of First Liberty Institute