The State of Georgia has requested that Dr. Eric Walsh, a physician and Christian lay preacher, turn over documents related to his association with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The request for production of documents, which carries the same force as a subpoena, originally asked for Walsh’s actual sermon notes and transcripts. After a public outcry, the state withdrew those items from its request. The state’s request is part of its litigation in a lawsuit Walsh filed against the Georgia Department of Public Health last May, claiming religious discrimination.
In May 2014, Walsh accepted a job as public health director for six counties in Georgia. A week later, the department asked him for copies of his sermons. First Liberty Institute, which represents Walsh, says state emails show the department divided up his sermons and listened to them, taking notes on Walsh’s religious views. Two days later, the department terminated Walsh’s contract.
Georgia officials are seeking a way to justify their illegal action in firing Walsh, said Jeremy Dys, senior counsel with First Liberty.
“It was illegal for them to ask for the sermons,” Dys said. “It was illegal for them to consider the sermons in making a determination to fire Dr. Walsh. And now to go deeper and demand his contract between him and his denomination? This is an intrusive government that is absolutely well beyond its boundary. It’s akin to the state of Georgia kicking down the door of his study and ransacking it, looking for evidence that they can use to justify their illegal behavior.”
Walsh’s religious beliefs first surfaced while he worked as public health director for the City of Pasadena, Calif. When word spread of his Georgia hiring, gay activist groups in California and Georgia demanded that Georgia leaders rescind the offer.