Written by Don Byrd
[UPDATE 11/5: According to the Family Research Council blog, Georgia has withdrawn its request for Walsh’s sermons.]
A story in Georgia is generating controversy today among religious liberty advocates. Dr. Eric Walsh, a Seventh Day Adventist lay minister has been asked by the Georgia Attorney General to hand over sermons he delivered and related notes and transcripts, in the discovery phase of Walsh’s lawsuit against Georgia’s Public Health Department for religious discrimination.
Walsh claims a job offer to join the Department was rescinded after state officials became aware of his religious views through reading some of his sermons. He filed suit in April for religious discrimination, a claim the state denies. They maintain they declined to offer him a job for reasons unrelated to his religious views.
Now, in defending the suit against them, the state has requested Walsh turn over sermons and related documents. He is refusing, citing religious freedom guarantees.
First Liberty Institute, which represents Walsh, released a statement. Here is an excerpt:
“The state insists that it did not fire Dr. Walsh over his religious beliefs or sermons. If that’s true, why is it demanding copies of his sermons now?” Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute and counsel for Dr. Walsh, asked. “It’s clear the government fired Dr. Walsh over his religious beliefs, which is blatant religious discrimination.”
“The government is demanding that a pastor hand over copies of all of his sermons, including notes and transcripts, without limitation,” Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for First Liberty says. “This is an excessive display of the government overreaching its authority and violating the sanctity of the church.”
“No government has the right to require a pastor to turn over his sermons,” says Dr. Eric Walsh. “I cannot and will not give up my sermons unless I am forced to do so.”
State officials have yet to comment on their request or explain its importance to their defense.
In 2014, regarding a much different case, the Baptist Joint Committee’s Brent Walker joined other religious liberty advocates in denouncing the City of Houston’s subpoena of pastor sermons. Their letter to the Mayor in that case expressed the concern well: “Whatever a church or synagogue or mosque or any other religious body believes about marriage or sexuality, the preaching and teaching of those bodies should be outside the scope of government intimidation or oversight.”
In that instance, the Mayor ultimately withdrew the sermon subpoenas.
In this case? Stay tuned.
[Note: this post has been edited for clarity.]