Bad Medicine: Calif. City’s Health Director Has Some Unhealthy Attitudes

According to Dr. Eric Walsh, the director of public health for the city of Pasadena, Calif., the American Psychiatric Association's 1973 decision to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental illness was “raised up by” Satan.

In all of the tumult last about the Supreme Court’s ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway, some other interesting stories got overlooked.

One of them concerns the director of public health for the city of Pasadena, Calif., who, it seems, is in a spot of trouble.

It has come to light that Dr. Eric Walsh has been moonlighting as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. In sermons posted online, he has called evolution “a religion created by Satan” and sharply criticized homosexuality, Catholicism and Islam.

Walsh seems to have something of an obsession with the devil. Just about everything he dislikes, from Oprah Winfrey and Disney movies to certain rap stars, he has labeled Satan influenced. Among his targets is the American Psychiatric Association, which in 1973 moved to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental illness. That decision, Walsh says, was “raised up by” Satan.

Of course Walsh has the right to say these things and preach them from the pulpit – and the residents of Pasadena have the right to question his views and ask if they might be affecting public policy. They would be wise to do that because in this case, Walsh’s rhetoric would seem to be highly relevant to his job.

Pasadena is one of a handful of California cities that has its own public health director. (The position is normally a county-level slot.) It’s an important job with a host of responsibilities, and Walsh’s strident theological views could impact them all.

Walsh believes that condom-distribution programs lead to promiscuity. This stance – which is unsupported by the medical community – would seem to be highly relevant to his job. He has also blasted public schools for teaching tolerance of LGBT students, asserting, “[I]f 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.” He has been critical of single moms too.

Is this the guy you want making decisions about what young people learn about sex?

I’d also be concerned about his opposition to evolution. Good medical professionals understand how viruses mutate and how this affects vaccine effectiveness. It’s due to a little thing called natural selection. I’d be wary of going to any doctor who rejected this theory.

Jim Newton of the Los Angeles Times put it well, writing of Walsh: “Not only did he pop off about the various kinds of people he believes are condemned by God, he also specifically rejected evolution, which he regards as the mischievous work of Satan rather than a fact of science. Those remarks suggest not just intolerance or religious fervor but active rejection of science important to carrying out his work as a health officer. In that instance, his comments raise questions not so much about his beliefs as about his competence. Would Pasadena want a health director who claimed tobacco did not cause heart disease or who insisted that climate change was a myth?"

Frank C. Giradot, a columnist for the Pasadena Star-News, also raised important points.

“[O]ur laws give him every right to believe in a hateful, bigoted and small-minded creed,” Giradot wrote. “But its prideful, marginalized and wrong-headed nature can’t help but affect Walsh’s judgment. It’s a belief system that makes Dr. Walsh incredibly unsuited for public service as the city’s chief health officer.”

Walsh is on paid leave while city officials investigate the matter.

That leave should be made permanent, without the pay. If Walsh wants to spread a theologically based message of division and bigotry, let him. And let the people who agree with that message and want to hear it pay his salary. His repulsive views have made him unfit for public service.

P.S. Americans United has worked with many Seventh-day Adventists over the years. They are often strong supporters of the separation of church and state. Walsh seems like an unfortunate outlier.