Dr. Eric Walsh’s list of accomplishments is long and diverse. Holding both a medical degree and a Doctorate in Public Health (Dr.P.H.), Walsh was appointed to President Obama’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDs. As Director of Pasadena’s Public Health Department, Dr. Walsh secured millions of dollars in grants to start an innovative, low-cost dental clinic for HIV positive patients, low-income adults, and senior citizens, a food bank for HIV positive individuals, and other programs.
Walsh also served as an associate pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“My mom was a single mother and what got us through was our faith,” Dr. Walsh said. “What I learned at church taught me the value of getting an education and led me to want to serve those in need. That’s why I became a doctor and I’ve held onto those beliefs ever since.”
Dr. Walsh is a lay minister is the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In a statement made to the EEOC prior to litigation, Dr. Walsh wrote that he is “a devout member” of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and, “[A]s a part of my sincerely-held religious beliefs, I believe in expressing my faith. My faith is important to me; I regularly speak about my faith at churches and religious conferences.”
In May 2014, following a lengthy interview process, the State of Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) offered Dr. Walsh the position of District Health Director. In emails, DPH officials said Dr. Walsh was their “favorite” candidate for the position, praising him as “bright, engaging, and [having] a great personality.” (View the email)
In emails, a DPH official said he was “quite certain” they would not see “a more qualified candidate” and recommended they adjust the budget to offer Dr. Walsh a better salary. The official said, “For the long term building of GA DPH this guy would be worth the few extra bucks!” (View the email)
Dr. Walsh accepted the DPH’s offer and made plans to move his family across the country from California to Georgia. A North Georgia Health District representative announced their new hire to the media and emails show Walsh’s new coworkers welcoming him to his new position.
However, the week after he was hired, state officials requested copies of his sermons and searched online for others. His sermon topics included following Christ, having compassion on the poor, caring for the sick, world religions, and more.
On May 14, the DPH Director of Human Resources sent an email to other department employees, stating:
“OK…I have an assignment for several of us. We have to listen to his sermons on YouTube tonight. If we take a couple of hours each, then we should cover our bases.” (View the email)
The morning after DPH officials divided up Dr. Walsh’s sermons for review, they held a meeting to discuss his employment at DPH. The next day, they fired him.
They called Dr. Walsh to inform him of his termination, but the call went to Dr. Walsh’s voicemail. Dr. Walsh was shocked to hear the end of the voicemail, where DPH officials were laughing and using words like “you’re out,” after they apparently thought the call had ended. (Listen to the voicemail)
“I couldn’t believe they fired me because of things I talked about in my sermons,” Dr. Walsh said. “It was devastating. I have been unable to get a job in public health since then. By reviewing my sermons and firing me because of my religious beliefs, the State of Georgia destroyed my career in public service.”
On September 23, 2014, First Liberty, along with co-counsel from the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert, filed an official charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Dr. Walsh’s behalf. The complaint charged the State of Georgia DPH with religious discrimination and retaliation for firing Walsh over the content of his sermons.
“No one should be fired for simply expressing his religious beliefs,” said Andrew Coffman, partner at Parks, Chesin & Walbert. “In America, it is against the law to fire an employee for expressing his religious beliefs—especially when that expression takes place at church.”
On February 2, 2016, Walsh received a Right to Sue letter from the EEOC, and on April 20, 2016, First Liberty filed a lawsuit against the Georgia DPH. (View the lawsuit)
According to attorneys at First Liberty, federal law protects Walsh’s right to talk about his faith inside his church or out of it. In particular, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the government from firing people over their religious beliefs, especially when those beliefs are expressed by a lay minister, outside of work, in a church setting.
“Religious liberty means we should be able to find sanctuary in our own sanctuary,” Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for First Liberty says. “If the government is allowed to fire someone over what he said in his sermons, then they can come after any of us for our beliefs on anything. We must ensure every American has the right to talk about their faith at church without getting fired or being barred from public service.”
On September 28, 2016, in the process of building their legal case against Walsh, the State of Georgia served a Request for Production of Documents on Walsh, which requires Walsh to surrender copies of his sermon notes and transcripts. There was no limitation on the types of sermons requested or any limitation on the timeframe for when the sermons were delivered. The request carries the same force of law as a subpoena. (Read the document)
“The government is demanding that a pastor hand over copies of all of his sermons, notes, and transcripts, without limitation,” Dys says. “This is an excessive display of the government overreaching its authority and violating the sanctity of the church.”
“No government has the right to require a pastor to turn over his sermons,” says Dr. Eric Walsh. “I cannot and will not give up my sermons unless I am forced to do so.”
On February 7, First Liberty reached a final settlement agreement with the State of Georgia on behalf of Dr. Eric Walsh, with the State of Georgia paying $225,000 to settle Dr. Walsh’s religious discrimination lawsuit.
“I am relieved to see this ordeal end and have my name cleared,” Dr. Eric Walsh says. “It has been a long, difficult journey, but I hope this positive outcome will encourage other public employees that they have religious freedom.”
“This is a clear and resounding victory for religious freedom,” Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute and counsel for Dr. Walsh, says. “The State of Georgia was right to settle this case and acknowledge the right of their employees to express their religious beliefs. Dr. Walsh is a man of courage and conviction who suffered a serious injustice. It has been a privilege to represent him.”
For Immediate Release: February 9, 2017
Contact: Kassie Dulin, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cell: 214-542-4334, Direct: 972-941-4575
GEORGIA PAYS ALMOST A QUARTER OF A MILLION DOLLARS
TO END PASTOR’S LAWSUIT
State of Georgia pays Dr. Eric Walsh $225,000 to settle religious discrimination lawsuit
Atlanta, Ga. – Today, First Liberty Institute announces they reached a settlement agreement between the State of Georgia and First Liberty’s client, Dr. Eric Walsh. The State of Georgia agreed to pay $225,000 to settle Dr. Walsh’s religious discrimination lawsuit.
“I am grateful this trial has finally ended,” Dr. Eric Walsh says. “It’s been a long, difficult journey, but it’s worth it to have my name cleared and to ensure that all Georgia government employees know they have religious liberty.”
“This is a clear and resounding victory for religious freedom,” Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute and counsel for Dr. Walsh, says. “We always knew the law was on our side, so we are pleased the State of Georgia agreed to settle this case and clear Dr. Walsh’s good name.”
Dr. Walsh, a lay minister and former Georgia government employee, filed a lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) after evidenced surfaced that he had been fired because of his religious beliefs.
In May 2014, Walsh accepted a position as a District Health Director with the DPH. A week later, a DPH official asked him to submit copies of sermons he had previously preached as a lay minister with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The day after Dr. Walsh provided his sermons to the state, the DPH terminated Dr. Walsh. In April 2016, First Liberty Institute, along with Atlanta law firm Parks, Chesin & Walbert, filed a lawsuit against the DPH on behalf of Dr. Walsh, charging the DPH with religious discrimination.
“We are grateful that the State of Georgia agreed to settle the case and acknowledge the right of their employees to express their religious beliefs,” Dys says. “No one should be fired for simply expressing his religious beliefs.”
Read more about the case and access photos and videos at FirstLiberty.org/Walsh
# # #
About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.
To arrange an interview, contact Kassie Dulin, Director of Legal Communications for First Liberty Institute. Email: email@example.com, Direct: 972-941-9575, Cell: 214-542-4334.
To download this press release, please click here.