Hiring of health official rescinded over comments

The Georgia Department of Public Health has decided to rescind a job offer to a California physician amid an uproar about his comments on homosexuality, religion and evolution.

Dr. Eric Walsh had been extended an offer to become director of the North Georgia Health District, contingent on a background check.

Walsh, a Seventh-day Adventist preacher as well as a physician, interviewed for the position and had received an offer letter with a start date of mid-June.

But Walsh never mentioned that he had recently been placed on leave from his job as public health director in Pasadena because of controversial sermons he gave on homosexuality and evolution, said Georgia officials, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Georgia Public Health officials made the announcement of the Walsh hire to staff members on Monday. But agency spokesman Ryan Deal said Walsh had yet to be officially hired because a background check was taking longer than expected.

“That background check has not completed, and at this time the Department of Public Health has found areas for further exploration,” Deal said, adding that the areas of further investigation were recent issues reported by the Pasadena Star-News.

He said an early announcement to district staff was “unfortunate” and premature.

Walsh resigned from his post in Pasadena on Wednesday after City Manager Michael Beck placed him on administrative leave to investigate statements he made in Seventh-day Adventist sermons posted online, according to the Pasadena Star-News.

In the sermons, Walsh condemned homosexuals, Muslims, Catholics and other groups as well as some personalities in popular culture and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, the newspaper reported.

The sermons surfaced after Walsh was invited to speak at Pasadena City College’s commencement ceremony, the Star-News said. He later backed out of the speech, citing a scheduling conflict.

The Health Initiative, an LGBT activist group in Georgia, sent a letter to Public Health Commissioner Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald on Thursday asking her not to hire Walsh.

Deal, the spokesman for Public Health, said in a statement Friday about the rescinding of the job offer: “Today’s action by the department follows a thorough examination of Dr. Walsh’s credentials and background as well as consultation with the six local Boards of Health which comprise the district.”

The North Georgia Health District covers Cherokee, Fannin, Gilmer, Murray, Pickens and Whitfield counties.