Dr. Eric Walsh’s lawsuit against the State of Georgia came to an end when the state agreed to pay the Seventh-Day Adventist and former state employee $225,000. First Liberty Institute, the non-profit law firm representing Walsh, announced the victory Thursday.
The settlement comes after a nearly three-year legal battle in which Walsh, a lay-minister for his church, accused Georgia of religious discrimination.
Accusations of Religious Discrimination
Walsh, a member of former President Barack Obama’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and holder of multiple advanced degrees, was hired as a district health director with Georgia’s Department of Public Health in 2014. But officials abruptly fired him after reviewing YouTube videos of sermons he had preached on the weekends.
First Liberty Institute, a national non-profit law firm based in Texas, helped Walsh file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC). As The Stream reported last April, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits the discrimination of employers based on their religion.
“No one should be fired from their job for something they said in a sermon, First Liberty Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys told The Stream at the time. “It will be fair game to examine the notes you took in church or the Sunday School lesson you prepared during your annual review.”
Six months later, after receiving the EEOC’s go-ahead, Walsh sued the state of Georgia in April of 2016. Georgia responded in September by demanding that Walsh produce “sermon notes and/or transcripts” and “all documents relating to your service as a pastor.”
Dys responded that the demand was intrusive, calling it “an excessive display of the government overreaching its authority and violating the sanctity of the church.”
Victory for Religious Liberty
First Liberty called the settlement a victory for religious freedom. “We are grateful that the State of Georgia agreed to settle the case and acknowledge the right of their employees to express their religious beliefs,” Dys said in a press release.
Dys pointed out that the law was on Walsh’s side. “No one should be fired for simply expressing his religious beliefs,” he said. He called Walsh “a man of courage and conviction who suffered a serious injustice.”
“It’s been a long, difficult journey,” Walsh commented, “but it’s worth it to have my name cleared and to ensure that all Georgia government employees know they have religious liberty.”
Walsh has been working as a medical missionary and as a medical doctor in California since being fired. Now that the lawsuit has ended, Walsh hopes he can continue to care for his community, First Liberty’s Director of Legal Communications Kassie Dulin told The Stream. (For more from the author of “Victory for Christians: Georgia State Employee Fired for Weekend Sermons Prevails” please click HERE)