Politics & Policy

Georgia Bureaucrats Listened to a Doctor’s Sermons, and Then Fired Him

Eric Walsh (Image: First Liberty Institute)

On March 28, Georgia governor Nathan Deal capitulated to threats from the social-justice warriors at Apple, Disney, and the NFL and vetoed HB 757, the “Free Exercise Protection Act.” In his self-righteous statement justifying his veto, Deal claimed that Georgia didn’t need new religious-liberty legislation. Rather, he claimed that these laws enable discrimination, and his veto was thus about the “character of our State and the character of its people.”

Perhaps he should look to the character of his own government. This morning, the First Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit in federal court that makes chilling claims against Georgia’s Department of Public Health, claims backed by a host of damaging documents. The Institute represents Dr. Eric Walsh, a California physician and former director of public health for the city of Pasadena, Calif. Walsh is also a devout Christian, a Seventh-day Adventist who sometimes preaches in his spare time.

Walsh, a former member of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, had accepted a job in Georgia as a district health director when Georgia officials became aware that he’d delivered a number of “controversial” sermons on his own time — sermons where he articulated orthodox Seventh-day Adventist positions on, among other things, human sexuality, Islam, evolution, and the corrupting influence of pop culture.

In California, Walsh had been attacked by student activists who objected to his selection as a commencement speaker at Pasadena City College. To these activists, working for former president Bush and President Obama to combat AIDS, serving as a board member of the Latino Health Collaborative, and starting California’s first city-run dental clinic for low-income families dealing with HIV/AIDS wasn’t sufficient to overcome the horror at Walsh’s Christian views. Under fire, Walsh canceled his commencement speech — while the city, incredibly, put him on administrative leave. The college replaced him with a gay screenwriter.

RELATED: Georgia Religious-Liberty Fight Reveals Christian Right’s Weakened Influence

When Georgia officials learned of Walsh’s California controversy, they responded by immediately violating the law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits government employers from considering an applicant’s religion in employment decisions, but Georgia officials not only evaluated Walsh’s religious views, the director of human resources wrote an e-mail to department employees giving them the “assignment” of listening to his sermons.

And so they did. E-mails indicate that health-department employees split the sermons up, listened to Walsh’s religious views, and took notes. Walsh asserts that one department official called and told him that “you can’t preach that and work in the field of public health.” The very next day, Walsh claims that department officials held a “hastily arranged” meeting to discuss Walsh’s employment.

#share#Not everyone supported the witch hunt: Walsh claims that the health department’s own lawyer twice warned department officials that Walsh’s religious beliefs “could play no role” in the department’s employment decisions. One health-department employee issued his own stark warning, saying: “If we do not hire this applicant on the basis of 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.”

EDITORIAL: Capitulation on Religious-Liberty Laws Is Shameful and Shortsighted

These warnings went unheeded, and two days after health-department officials carried out their “assignment” to watch his sermons, they terminated Walsh — informing him through a mocking voice-mail message that a termination letter was on its way.

Walsh’s case is now the second major federal lawsuit challenging the conduct of Georgia public officials.

The health department has since claimed that the sermons that officials were “assigned” to watch had nothing at all to do with Walsh’s termination. Instead, they claim they fired him because they believed Walsh failed to disclose outside income while working in California — an assertion that Walsh contests and asserts never came up at any stage of the Georgia interview process.

Walsh’s case is now the second major federal lawsuit challenging the conduct of Georgia public officials. In February, I reported on former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran’s case against Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed. The city fired Cochran after they discovered he’d written a book on his own time that — gasp! — articulated an orthodox Christian view of sexual morality.

Both Cochran and Walsh were African-American men raised by single mothers. Both Cochran and Walsh relied on their faith to fuel careers of incredible achievement. The faith that sustained them now condemns them — at least in Nathan Deal’s Georgia.

#related#The Left used to say that it wasn’t concerned with Christian speech in houses of worship. Instead, it was only focused on “ending discrimination.” But now the Left is the discriminator, seeking to purge vocal Christians from public life. Now, even sermons are not safe from government scrutiny, and a man who’s never been accused of workplace discrimination finds himself unable to find a job in the public-health sector.

Governor Deal described Georgia as a place where “our people work side-by-side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to.” But his own government refutes his words. In some parts of Georgia, persecution is the practice.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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