A black doctor who was fired for supposedly inflammatory sermons unrelated to his medical work filed a lawsuit against the state of Georgia on Wednesday, claiming religious discrimination. This is particularly ironic, considering the governor of that state recently vetoed a religious liberty bill.
Dr. Eric Walsh previously served on President Obama’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, was a board member of the Latino Health Collaborative, and started California’s first city-run dental clinic for low-income families dealing with AIDS. Nevertheless, Walsh was fired only one week after being hired by Georgia’s Department of Public Health. Right before Walsh was terminated, the department circulated his sermons, giving staffers the “assignment” of listening to them.
To make matters worse, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a religious freedom bill this month which would have helped Walsh in his case. After being pressured by “Social Justice Warriors” to kill the legislation, the governor laughably declared that religious freedom violations were not an issue in his state. He argued that the bill would enable discrimination against homosexuals, even while his own administration had engaged in blatant religious discrimination on the other side of the issue.
“In vetoing the religious liberty bill earlier this month, Georgia Governor Deal indicated that he had seen no examples of religious discrimination in Georgia making that law necessary,” Jeremy Dys told PJ Media in an email statement. Dys serves as senior counsel for the First Liberty Institute, the group representing Walsh in his lawsuit.
“Governor Deal needs to look no further than the Georgia Department of Public Health to find one of the most egregious cases of religious discrimination in the country — the case of Dr. Walsh,” Dys declared. “Had Governor Deal signed the religious liberty law into effect, we likely would have pled that law in our efforts to preserve Dr. Walsh’s religious liberty.”
Dr. Walsh accepted the position of director for the northwest part of Georgia at the state’s Department of Public Health in May 2014. Only one week later, state officials request copies of sermons Walsh had given as a lay minister for the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Walsh’s sermons had come under fire in the past. In California, he was chosen to give a commencement speech at Pasadena City College. Student activists objected, referencing his “controversial” stances on issues such as sexuality, evolution, Islam, and popular culture — stances which fall in line with the orthodox Seventh-Day Adventist line. When Walsh canceled his commencement speech, the city put him on administrative leave.
The Georgia Department of Public Health responded similarly. The director of human resources sent an email giving his colleagues the “assignment” of listening to his sermons. Then the department left a voicemail on the doctor’s machine, letting him know his employment was terminated. The most insulting part, however, came when they did not hang up the phone, but mocked him after thinking the call was over. One of the callers said, “you can’t preach that and work in the field of public health,” Walsh recalled.
Georgia’s officials flagrantly violated the law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits government employers from considering religion in employment decisions. The public health officials not only considered Walsh’s sermons, they provided no other reason for firing him.
On May 14, the department requested the sermons, assigning them to various employees to review, and on May 15, they held a meeting to discuss these sermons and Dr. Walsh’s employment. On May 16, they fired the man. On Thursday, the department responded to the lawsuit denying any connection between the two, but the facts are rather clear.
“After Dr. Walsh was fired over the content of his sermons, he filed a complaint with the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] EEOC as required by the law,” Dys explained. “In February 2016, the EEOC gave us a ‘right to sue’ letter. Once we had the letter, we filed the lawsuit.” The fact it took the EEOC nearly two years to give the right to sue is a travesty.
Next Page: This is not even the first case of religious discrimination in Georgia.
This is actually the second case of religious discrimination in Georgia. In January 2015, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed fired Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran for writing a book about the Christian approach to sexuality. Naturally, his book was blasted as “anti-gay,” and therefore unacceptable. This is how traditional religious teaching becomes totally anathema in our society.
As National Review‘s David French noted, “The Left used to say that it wasn’t concerned with Christian speech in houses of worship, [but only on] ‘ending discrimination.’ But now the Left is the discriminator, seeking to purge vocal Christians from public life.” French added that “even sermons are not safe from government scrutiny, and a man who’s never been accused of workplace discrimination finds himself unable to find a job in the public-health sector.”
Dr. Walsh got the boot, not for discriminating against anyone 0r for any problem with his record in the public health profession. Instead, he was unceremoniously dismissed because of his religious beliefs — beliefs he uttered inside closed doors in a church.
If what you believe, entirely disconnected from the work you do, can get you fired, we are truly living in a totalitarian state. Then again, Christians have faced far worse before, from the Roman Empire forward. Events like this, more than anything else, should remind us not to conflate our faith with our politics.
St. Augustine taught us that there are two separate worlds: the City of Man and the City of God. Our allegiance is to the heavenly city, not the earthly one. We should promote peace in the United States of America, and certainly fight for our rights to religious freedom, but we should never think America is our true home.