A public health expert and Seventh-Day Adventist preacher who lost a job offer from the State of Georgia over sermons posted to YouTube is suing for discrimination.
A week after offering Eric Walsh a job in 2014 as district health director for Northwest Georgia, state officials combed through his online sermons, which allegedly ranged from topics such as the sin of homosexuality to the corrupting influence of pop culture. They met together the following morning, and revoked his job offer the next day.
Walsh holds a medical degree and a doctorate in public health, served on President Barack Obama’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, and until early 2014 was director of the Public Health Department in Pasadena, Calif. In 2013, he opened California’s first city-run dental clinic for patients with HIV/AIDS.
He didn’t lose the Georgia job for any dearth of work-related performance or for a lack of credentials, his attorney, Jeremy Dys with First Liberty Institute, told me. In fact, at the time of his hire, fellow officials “were highly impressed by Dr. Walsh.”
Emails obtained by First Liberty Institute show one official “begging and lobbying the commissioner for the Department of Public Health for more money in the budget to pay this guy because, ‘We’re not going to find a better candidate like this any time soon,’” Dys said.
But on May 14, 2014, human resources director Lee Rudd emailed state employees about the sermons.
“OK … I have an assignment for several of us,” he wrote. “We have to listen to his sermons on YouTube tonight. If we take a couple of hours each, then we should cover our bases.”
Two days later, Walsh was looking for another job.
“I don’t know what they read in those sermons, and it doesn’t matter. They were sermons, and it could have just been that they didn’t like him preaching, period. That’s illegal,” Dys told me.
Walsh had applied to work in Georgia after stepping down from his position in Pasadena due to controversy surrounding his sermons.
Pasadena City College invited Walsh to speak at its 2014 commencement, after dis-inviting openly gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. Angry students began combing through Walsh’s sermons and posting the content on social media.
“They just took little snippets, and of course by taking them out of context and framing a new context, they were able to frame me as a very terrible person,” Walsh said in a later sermon. “I was called in the papers a bigot, I was called a homophobe. I was called all kinds of names that simply weren’t true. And what was shocking, as we’ll talk about, is that many of the simple, fundamental Christian things that Christians of all denominations believe became fodder to burn and to fire against me.”
The media storm that followed caught Walsh completely off guard, and he declined the college’s invitation. The college then re-invited Black to speak.
Meanwhile, Pasadena City Manager Michael Beck placed Walsh on paid administrative leave “to complete an inquiry into statements made by him in his private capacity and to assess the impact those statements might have on his ability to effectively lead the city’s Public Health Department.”
Walsh resigned from his position on May 14, the day Rudd directed Georgia employees to scour his sermons. Two days later, he lost the job he was supposed to start in June, 2014.
After that, Walsh spent a year working as a medical missionary in Guam, Dys told me, and now works as a medical doctor in California. But his first passion is public health, and in its lawsuit, First Liberty Institute has asked for his re-instatement.
The implications for his job loss are huge, Dys said.
“If Dr. Walsh’s case is going to stand, that means that the sermon notes anybody takes on a Sunday, or perhaps the Sunday School lesson you created for the 6-year-olds in your place of worship, now those are going to be fair game for your annual review,” Dys said. “If the government can fire Dr. Walsh for the content of his sermons, regardless of what that content is, they can come after any of us for any of our beliefs on anything.”