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This Georgia pastor declined to hand his sermons to the state, and more than 25K people support him

Posted October 31

More than 25,000 people have signed an online petition condemning Georgia state officials for asking a minister to hand over his sermons to the state, according to the Christian Post.

Those who signed the Family Research Council’s petition considered the act a way for the state to silence religious believers.

"I stand with Dr. Eric Walsh's freedom to believe and live according to his deeply-held beliefs. The demand that he hand over his sermons, sermon notes and all pastoral documents including his Bible represents a government intrusion into the sanctity of the church, pastor's study, and pulpit," the petition reads. "Heavy-handed tactics like this have the effect of intimidating and silencing people of faith everywhere. Such targeting of the pulpit by the government is unconscionable, and I urge you to use all means of your authority to correct this egregious overreach of the state into church affairs."

Many will remember Walsh as the health expert who once led President Barack Obama’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS before he was let go for his Christian views on traditional marriage, the National Review reported.

He found a new job in May 2014 as a district health director in Georgia’s health department, which asked him to submit his sermons for review. He did so but was let go two days later, according to Fox News.

After losing his job, Walsh filed a “charge of discrimination” with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. Now, the state is calling for him to turn over his sermons.

Georgia Department of Public Health spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said that Walsh’s religious beliefs have nothing to do with the request, according to The Daily Signal.

“During the background check process, DPH learned Dr. Walsh failed to disclose outside employment to his previous public health employer, which also was in violation of California law,” Nydam wrote to The Daily Signal in an email. “Due to violation of both California state law and DPH policy, the offer to Dr. Walsh was rescinded. During his interview, Dr. Walsh disclosed his religious beliefs to DPH staff and indicated that he preached at his church in California. Dr. Walsh’s religious beliefs had nothing to do with the decision to withdraw the offer.”

In a statement, Walsh said that the first amendment protects him from handing over his sermons. He also spoke with Family Research Council president Tony Perkins about the pending case.

Emir Caner, president of Truett-McConnell University, a Christian school based in Cleveland, Georgia, is just one of the religious leaders condemning state officials for their actions against Walsh.

"A new era has come to our shores, a time where government finds it acceptable to suppress the freedom of religion even to the extent of requesting a minister's sermons," Caner said, according to the Christian Post. "As an ordained minister, I know that this is not merely an assault on the messenger, but on the very message of our Sacred Scriptures."

As the litigation continues, it’s important to remember this isn’t the first time we’ve seen state and city officials call for sermons to be turned over to the government.

As The Huffington Post reported in 2014, Houston city officials called for five pastors to turn over their sermons that talked about a new city ordinance that banned discrimination against LGBT people. In fact, the subpoena asked for all sermons focused on or related to homosexuality and gender equality issues.

Of course, Houston Mayor Annise Parker said the requests were too broad.

“Neither the mayor nor City Attorney David Feldman were aware the subpoenas had been issued until yesterday,” the mayor’s spokesperson Janice Evans told The Huffington Post over email. “Both agree the original documents were overly broad. The city will move to narrow the scope during an upcoming court hearing.”

Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, told The Huffington Post that there’s very little reason for the government to ever ask for a pastor’s sermons.

“I will work as hard to defend the freedom of speech from the pulpit for those with whom I disagree, as I will to defend the rights of the LGBT community,” Gaddy told HuffPost. “As long as a sermon is not inciting violence, the government has no business getting involved in the content of ministers’ sermons.”

Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.

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