An online petition started by the Family Research Council condemns Georgia officials for demanding that a Seventh-day Adventist lay minister hand over his sermons to the state government, calling it an attempt to silence people of faith.
"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," reads the petition to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal.
"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."
As The Christian Post reported on Wednesday, Walsh is a leading health expert who was previously appointed to President Obama's Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDs, but the state's Department of Public Health ended up rescinding his employment after it investigated his Christian views on marriage.
After Walsh filed an official charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission in September 2014, the state of Georgia filed a Request for Production of Documents, which asked for copies of his sermons and all material relating to his service as a pastor.
Walsh has strongly opposed the request, however.
"No government has the right to require a pastor to turn over his sermons," he said in a statement. "I cannot and will not give up my sermons unless I am forced to do so."
First Liberty Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys, who is handling Walsh's case, said if the state is denying that it fired the pastor over his religious beliefs, it needs to explain why it's demanding copies of his sermons now.
"It's clear the government fired Walsh over his religious beliefs, which is blatant religious discrimination," Dys said.
"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." Walsh has been backed by a number of other Christian voices, Fox News reported, including Emir Caner, president of Truett-McConnell University, a Christian school based in Cleveland, Georgia.
"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. "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."
The FRC petition has been signed by over 20,600 people as of Thursday morning.