The state of Georgia has agreed to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit with a public health expert who was fired from his job at the state's Department of Public Health (DPH) in 2014 after officials requested copies of his sermons for review.
On Feb. 7, the State of Georgia agreed to pay $225,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by Dr. Eric Walsh, who is a lay minister at the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Walsh was first offered the position of District Health Director by DPH officials in May 2014 after a lengthy interview process, according to First Liberty Institute, which represented Walsh in the case.
The lay preacher accepted the job offer and made plans to move his family from California to Georgia. However, a week after he was hired, state officials requested copies of his sermons which dwelt on topics such as Christ, having compassion on the poor, caring for the sick, homosexuality, creationism and world religions. Walsh was fired two days after the officials made the request.
"I couldn't believe they fired me because of things I talked about in my sermons," said Walsh. "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," he added.
In September 2014, First Liberty, along with co-counsel from the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert, filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Walsh's behalf.
Walsh received a Right to Sue letter from the EEOC on Feb. 2, 2016, and First Liberty filed a lawsuit against the DPH on April 20, 2016.
In September last year, the State of Georgia asked Walsh to provide copies of his sermon notes and transcripts, but he refused to comply.
"No government has the right to require a pastor to turn over his sermons. I cannot and will not give up my sermons unless I am forced to do so," Walsh said at the time.
The case was finally resolved on Feb. 7 after First Liberty reached a final settlement agreement with the State of Georgia.
Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute and counsel for Walsh, said that the settlement is "a clear and resounding victory for religious freedom."
"The State of Georgia was right to settle this case and acknowledge the right of their employees to express their religious beliefs," he said.