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Sermon Notes Subpoenaed

Penna Dexternever miss viewpoints

Throughout our nation’s history, citizens have been able, for the most part, to count on the government having our back as Christians. Recently though, we’re seeing a rise in blatant discrimination by government officials against Christians for expressing their faith. Shockingly, it’s even extending to pastors.

In 2014, Anise Parker, the mayor of Houston, Texas, subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors who opposed the city’s transgender bathroom ordinance. There was a national outcry and her effort was shut down. You’d think that would close the book on the subpoena of pastors’ sermons.

But it’s happening again — to Eric Walsh. Dr. Walsh has a medical degree and a doctorate in public health. He is a former member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. For four years, he worked as director of the public health department in the city of Pasadena, California, where he did much to help HIV-positive citizens. As a lay minister, he also does some weekend preaching for Seventh-day Adventist congregations.

In May of 2014, Dr. Walsh accepted a job as district health director for the state of Georgia’s Department of Public Health.  During the interview process, he spoke of his ministry to his denomination. One week after accepting the job offer, Dr. Walsh was asked to submit transcripts of the sermons he preached.

Department of Public Health officials divided up Dr. Walsh’s sermons for review. They then held a meeting to discuss his employment at DPH. The next day, they fired him.

Dr. Walsh retained First Liberty Institute to help him challenge the firing. That September, First Liberty filed an official complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC issued a right to sue letter and, on behalf of Eric Walsh, First Liberty sued the Georgia Department of Health.

Last month, in connection with that lawsuit, the state of Georgia demanded Dr. Walsh provide copies of his sermons, sermon notes and transcripts, and other related documents. His attorney, Jeremy Dys, says the request is so extensive, it could even encompass the notes Dr. Walsh has written in the margins of his preaching Bible.

This is completely illegal. Not only does Dr. Walsh have the right to talk about his faith generally, but his right to speak of it inside his church is indisputable. On the surface, the state of Georgia seems to agree.

In fact, the state insists the firing of Eric Walsh, has nothing to do with his sermons. If that’s true, why demand copies of them?

After some pushback, the State of Georgia backed off on the request for the actual sermons. But it’s still demanding all contracts and agreements Eric Walsh has with his church and denomination and sermon-related materials. Why should any of this matter to the Georgia Health Department?

Dr. Walsh was fired for expressing orthodox Christian belief not in the workplace, but at church. This is the state opposing the church being the church.

Viewpoints by Kerby Anderson

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