A public health expert is accusing the Georgia Department of Public Health of religious discrimination after he was allegedly denied a position following the discovery of controversial sermons he delivered about homosexuality, evolution and Catholicism at a California church.
Dr. Eric Walsh claims that he accepted a job on May 5, 2014, as a district health director with the state governmental body, but that officials abruptly decided to rescind the offer just days later — a move he believes is due to his Christian beliefs.
Through his attorneys at the Liberty Institute, a conservative legal firm, and Parks, Chesin & Walbert, Walsh — who is also a lay minister with the Seventh Day Adventist Church — has filed an official discrimination claim with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal body that investigates alleged biases in the workplace.
"This year, I applied for a job and was hired, but was then discriminated against when my employer terminated due to my beliefs. Terminating me for my beliefs was discriminatory, retaliatory or both," Walsh wrote in his complaint to the EEOC. "My employer terminated me before my first day on the job. Thus, my employer would have been discriminating against me as a job applicant even if it had not yet hired me, by refusing to hire me due to me religious beliefs."
Walsh, who also made headlines earlier this year when he left his previous position as the public health director in Pasadena, California, amid controversy over his past sermons, said that he was interviewed on three separate occasions for the position in Georgia and was granted an offer letter, but that it was conditional on an official background check.
And that's where Walsh said he ran into some trouble.
"On May 16, 2014, after gathering information about my religious expressions, the State of Georgia withdrew its offer and terminated me because of my religious beliefs," Walsh wrote in the complaint.
Walsh had resigned from his position as public health director in Pasadena just two days before the Georgia Department of Public Health rescinded its job offer, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
The debate over these sermons first began after Walsh was invited to deliver a commencement speech at Pasadena City College last school year while still serving in his Pasadena health role.
Students discovered some past sermons in which he apparently dismissed Catholicism, said that homosexuality was a sin and dubbed evolution a "religion created by Satan" — and they shared these comments with media, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
It didn't take long for some spirited commentary against Walsh to emerge, with many dismissing his statements as beyond the pale, claiming that they were not worthy of a man holding his public position in Pasadena; calls for his resignation ran rampant.
Bill Donohue of the conservative Catholic League was among those calling for Walsh's removal when the story first broke.
"After reading some of his hateful, and astonishingly ignorant, statements on Catholicism, I wondered why anyone would invite him to speak anywhere, never mind a college," Donohue said in a statement before Walsh left his Pasadena post. "Dr. Walsh is not fit to be the head of Pasadena’s Public Health Department. It is not worth attempting to rebut the man’s bigotry, so outlandish is it. Anyone whose judgment is that impaired has no legitimate role to play in public life."
Dr. Eric Walsh claims he was fired from a government post over his religious beliefs (Liberty Institute)
Regardless of the content of his sermons, free speech advocates argue that Walsh should not be penalized for his religious beliefs. In a statement issued to TheBlaze, Liberty Institute attorney Jeremy Dys said that it was clear the public health expert had the job before officials discovered his sermons.
According to Dys, Walsh met with staffers who would be working under him at the Georgia Department of Public Health and had even cleared a coming vacation before the position was rescinded.
"As the human resources forms were being completed, they asked for links to Dr. Walsh’s sermons. Dr. Walsh sent those to Jim Howgate on May 15. On May 16, he was fired," the attorney said. "All the evidence points to the fact that the Georgia Department of Public Health tolerated Dr. Walsh’s excellent professional credentials, but would not tolerate the religious beliefs he expressed in church."
Dys added, "In America, it is illegal to fire a professional for something he says in church."
A spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Public Health said this week that the position was withdrawn for reasons not pertaining to Walsh's beliefs, adding that the state will respond to the complaint "as soon as possible."
"I didn't know in the United States of America that something like this could happen," Walsh said while announcing the complaint at a press conference this week.
You can read his complaint in its entirety here.