The state of Georgia has agreed to pay $225,000 to settle a complaint that it illegally discriminated against a lay pastor who was fired by the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH), apparently because of the content of his sermons. Dr. Walsh was represented by the First Liberty Institute.
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. The original state investigation of Walsh’s sermons apparently was sparked by one complaint from an official with a county Democratic Party who is a “gay activist.”
“I am grateful this trial has finally ended,” Walsh, an experienced health department administrator, said in a statement released through his lawyers. “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.”
Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for First Liberty, said: “This is a clear and resounding victory for religious freedom. 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.”
“No one should be fired for simply expressing his religious beliefs,” Dys said. The state attempted several maneuvers to defeat the religious discrimination claim, and decided to settle when it became obvious that they would not prevail. There were also 40,389 signatures on a petition started by the Family Research Council.
No word on whether the DPH official who asked Dr. Walsh to submit copies of his notes & sermons was fired. He should be, in our opinion. There should be consequences when a public official uses his or her power to attempt to strip someone of their rights strictly on ideological reasons–as was the case in this situation.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5).