Pasadena Public Health Director Dr. Eric Walsh has just been put on paid administrative leave after video surfaced of past religious sermons he gave denouncing homosexuality and Islam, according to local reports.
Dr. Eric Walsh, associate pastor at a local Seventh-day Adventist congregation in Altadena, became Pasadena's Public Health Director in 2010, one of three cities in California to have its own department. As of Thursday, he is on temporary paid administrative leave.
City Manager Michael Beck announced Walsh's suspension Thursday, explaining that the city needed time to assess how his statements impacted "his ability to effectively lead" the department:
Dr. Eric Walsh has been placed on temporary paid administrative leave 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 might have on his ability to effectively lead the city’s Public Health Department. The Public Health Department remains a strong and vital part of the city of Pasadena organization and remains dedicated to protecting the health and wellness of our entire community.
In one recorded sermon, Walsh addressed moral relativism, particularly in regard to homosexuality:
In our public school system they began to teach moral relativism. They began to teach that there really is no absolute right or wrong. It’s more a matter of what you think or what you accept. And [according to that doctrine] if two adults agree to do something, it’s not wrong because they are both consenting adults. That is doctrine from the pits of hell. What makes something right is not based on man, it is based on God.
In addition to his views on homosexuality, Walsh also called the theory of evolution a "satanic religion" and once referred to the prophet Muhammad as a "satanist." (An example of one of Walsh's sermons on sexuality and sexual purity is included above.)
The sermons came as quite a shock to some members in the Pasadena community as they directly conflicted with past statements he made at All Saints Church, where Pasadena's first gay marriage took place, and at the 2012 Pasadena Mayor's Prayer Breakfast. In those statements, Walsh praised Pasadena's multicultural community, saying that discrimination actually increases sickness in a community.
Reactions from the gay community have been mixed with some believing Walsh should be punished. AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein denounced Walsh's statements, arguing they should exclude him from public office:
Public health is an extremely sensitive matter, and it really relies on the trust of the population served and because Pasadena is particularly impacted by diseases that affect the LGBT community. I think he’s not qualified to be public health director with those views.
However, Aaron Saenz, President of San Gabriel Valley Pride, stated that while he disagreed with Walsh's views, he did not see any evidence it affected his job.
I feel from the research I know I don’t think it affected his work. I think those are just his personal views however he chose to share them and that’s on him.
Other City Council members have openly defended Walsh, citing his help in setting up the Michael Antonovich Dental Clinic for HIV positive patients. Councilman Terry Tornek expressed being "distraught" about the situation, stating that Walsh has done a "terrific job" and has helped lead the department in the "right direction":
I’m distraught, is the truth. I think very highly of Dr. Walsh. I think he has been doing as near as I can tell a terrific job. Nothing has changed in terms of my personal observation or my assessment of Dr. Walsh’s performance, and I think the Health Department has been headed in the right direction, and we are proud of it and he has worked wonders.
The decision to suspend Walsh came days after he withdrew himself as commencement speaker for Pasadena City College.
Walsh has yet to issue comment on his suspension.