Georgia Drops Demands for Pastor to Hand Over Bible and Sermons, Now Wants Minister Credentials, Salary

Dr. Eric Walsh
Dr. Eric Walsh. |

After nearly 40,000 people signed a petition to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal protesting against demands that a Seventh-day Adventist lay minister hand over his Bible and sermons, state officials have backed off to an extent, but are still making intrusive requests toward the pastor, according to the Family Research Council which started the petition.

The petition backed leading health expert Dr. Eric Walsh, who was previously appointed to President Obama's Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDs, though that employment offer was rescinded after officials looked into his views on marriage.

The state of Georgia filed a Request for Production of Documents, which asked Walsh for copies of sermons and all material relating to his service as a pastor, but the doctor said that the government does not have the right to take his sermons.

FRC wrote in a Facebook update on Tuesday: "After a public outcry, the state attorney general's office withdrew its request for his sermons. However, the AG is still demanding that Dr. Walsh turn over a number of things which should be off-limits.

"While withdrawing the request for sermons is a welcome development, Governor Deal and the state of Georgia need to fix the wrong done to Dr. Walsh that led to this lawsuit in the first place."

An FRC blog said that Walsh is still being asked to provide his credentials as minister; proof that he has served with the Seventh-day Adventist denomination; all contracts he has ever had with the Church; and details on how much he has been compensated for his sermons.

"Such intrusive government overreach is completely unacceptable. Our freedoms don't permit the state to assess a minister's credentials. The government may not inquire into discussions and agreements between a religious denomination and its leader," FRC wrote in response to the latest development.

"The state of Georgia hired a man as its public health director, but then fired him after reviewing his sermons. Why the state thought that was a good idea, or why a man was fired for the content of his preaching in the first place, remains a mystery," the conservative group added.

FRC President Tony Perkins, the host of Washington Watch, said in an interview that Deal's actions as governor toward Walsh are "unbelievable."

"This seems very excessive and obviously intrusive, breaching that wall of separation between the state and the Church," he stated.

First Liberty Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys, who is representing Walsh, said that the state fired the doctor over his religious beliefs, which he said is "blatant religious discrimination."

"It's an incredible intrusion on the sanctity of the pulpit," Dys added. "This is probably the most invasive reach into the pulpit by the state that I've ever seen."

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