The Southern California city of Pasadena has suspended its public health director, Dr. Eric Walsh, while it investigates statements the Seventh-day Adventist lay preacher allegedly made in several sermons.
Walsh is one of the latest in a string of incidents where people speaking out on politically sensitive topics face threats to their employment.
According to a statement from Pasadena city manager Michael Beck, Walsh was suspended with pay in order "to provide the City of Pasadena the opportunity to complete an inquiry into statements made by him, in his private capacity, and to assess the impact those statements may have on his ability to effectively lead the City’s Public Health Department."
Walsh's sermons came to the city's attention after an invitation for Walsh to deliver a commencement speech Friday at Pasadena City College caused a revolt among some students and faculty. Critics posted or linked to video clips of controversial sermons Walsh delivered as a lay associate pastor at the <a style="href="http://altadena.adventistfaith.org/"" target="_blank">Altadena Seventh-day Adventist Church</a>. Los Angeles Times writer Robin Abcarian <a style="href="http://www.latimes.com/local/abcarian/la-me-ra-pasadena-college-commencement-speaker-fiasco-20140429-story.html#axzz30aCUnrpj&page=1"" target="_blank">broke the Walsh story</a> in her column.
"Topics discussed by Walsh at the pulpit include: homosexuality as a sin; Oprah, JAY Z, Beyonce ... as examples of the spirit of anti-Christ; Darwin’s theory of evolution as a satanic belief; and describing the prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam, as a Satanist," the Pasadena Star-News reported.
Walsh, a graduate of Seventh-day Adventist-owned Oakwood University who also holds master's and doctorate degrees in public health, has directed Pasadena's Public Health Department since 2010, earning $193,600 in wages and $56,900 in benefits in 2012, state records obtained by the Los Angeles Times revealed. The newspaper quoted Pasadena spokesman William Boyer as saying Walsh oversaw creation of a dental clinic that served low-income patients, as well as those with HIV/AIDS.
The city's Human Relations Commission didn't wait for the results of the inquiry before announcing it will hold a community forum to discuss the actions of Pasadena City College, disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and the now-suspended Walsh, according to a recent Star-News report.
Commission chairman Nat Nehdar had sharp words about Walsh's sermon statements. "We don’t tolerate this type of behavior, this type of thought. People in the position that they are, if they really truly mean what they say, it’s not right, number one, and they are creating more harm and not being fair and just to all human beings,” Nehdar told the Star-News. “As long as we continue to go backward, backward, backward, we’re never going to go forward.”
Walsh doesn't appear to be getting much backing from local administrators of his denomination. An official of the Southern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, in a statement to the Pasadena Independent weekly newspaper and other media, said Walsh "does not hold ministerial credentials from the (Seventh-day) Adventist Church, (and) does not speak on behalf of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination."
Walsh isn't the only public or semi-public figure to recently face job issues over expressing personal beliefs or positions. Mozilla Foundation co-founder and CEO Brendan Eich left his job after an Internet firestorm over his $1,000 donation in support of California's Proposition 8, which defined marriage in the state as being between one man and one woman.
Several months earlier, cable network A&E temporarily suspended appearances of Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the popular reality show Duck Dynasty, after he told GQ magazine that the Bible views homosexuality as a sin.
And a minor kerfuffle erupted Wednesday when popular cable network HGTV first approved and then yanked support for "Flip it Forward," a home-fix-up show hosted by twin brothers David and Jason Benham, twin sons of a controversial Christian preacher and graduates of Liberty University. According to Entertainment Weekly, the brothers' show was scheduled to premiere in October.
However, RightWingWatch.org, a blog site operated by People for the American Way, called out David Benham for expressing conservative views on marriage, abortion and other social issues. Responding in a statement on their website, the Benhams said, "Anyone who suggests that we hate homosexuals or people of other faiths is either misinformed or lying. ... With all of the grotesque things that can be seen and heard on television today you would think there would be room for two twin brothers who are faithful to our families, committed to biblical principles, and dedicated professionals. If our faith costs us a television show then so be it."