The state of Georgia agreed to pay $225,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit, after state officials dismissed an employee because of sermons he gave in his capacity as a lay minister.
Dr. Eric Walsh, a Seventh-Day Adventist minister and public health professional, was hired for a management position at the Georgia Department of Health in 2014. Shortly after he was hired, he was asked to turn over copies of sermons he had given to his congregation, where he served after business hours. He was dismissed after the review.
“I am grateful this trial has finally ended,” Walsh said. “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.”
“This is a clear and resounding victory for religious freedom,” Jeremy Dys, of First Liberty Institute and counsel for Walsh, said. “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.”
One week after he was hired, a DPH human resources official sent an email to colleagues soliciting help in reviewing Walsh’s sermons, many of which were available on YouTube. The sermons, though largely in accordance with historic Christian belief, contain controversial statements concerning social and cultural controversies like homosexuality, Some of those sermons implicate his work as a public health official. He also polemicized against Islam, Catholicism and evolution.
Walsh brought a claim against the DPH with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging religious discrimination. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits the government from dismissing employees because of their religious beliefs. Those protections are stronger when the conduct in question concerns a minister acting in his official capacity outside the workplace. He also alleges several constitutional violations. EEOC approved the suit.
The case concluded with Georgia’s decision to settle.
“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. “No one should be fired for simply expressing his religious beliefs.”