What are we to make of the Israel Folau situation? What can we learn from it?
Is it an emplyment issue or a freedom of speech issue or do they overlap? If so, how?
I have tried to include all sides of the debate so that we can weigh them up. However, it is true that much of what I have found has been supportive of Israel Folau.
I have also tried to arrange these items in chronological order because the situation has been evolving. There is a timeline of Folau’s involvement in rugby (including this controversy). This one focuses more on the controversy.
I hope I’ve got this roughly right.
April 4 2018
Israel Folau was asked, on Instagram “what was gods plan for gay people??”. He replied, “HELL… Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.”
Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle met with Folau. He was not disciplined or sanctioned but Castle said, “Israel’s comment reflects his personal religious beliefs, however it does not represent the view of Rugby Australia or NSW Rugby,” Ms Castle said in a statement.
“We are aligned in our view that rugby is a game for all, regardless of sexuality, race, religion or gender, which is clearly articulated in rugby’s inclusion policy.
“We understand that Israel’s comment has upset a number of people and we will discuss the matter with him as soon as possible.”
April 16 2018
Folau wrote at length in Players’ Voice effectively giving his testimony and explaining his position. It was entitled “I’m A Sinner Too”.
Raelene Castle then said, “In his article, Israel clearly articulated his religious beliefs and why his faith is important to him and has provided context behind his social media comment.
“In his own words, Israel said that he did not intend to upset people intentionally or bring hurt to the game. We accept Israel’s position.
“Rugby Australia will use this experience as an opportunity to remind all employees of their obligation to use social media in a respectful way.”
Quantas, a major sponsor of Rugby Australia expressed its disapointment with Israel’ comments.
Folau shares a video in which American preacher David Wilkerson can be heard to say “rampant iniquity, sexual perversion beyond description” as images of protesters with rainbow flags play in the background.
Folau tweeted a screenshot of a news article about Tasmania making gender optional on birth certificates, saying, “The devil has blinded so many people in this world, REPENT and turn away from your evil ways. Turn to Jesus Christ who will set you free.”
April 10 2019
Israel posted the following “meme” on Instragram.
Raelene Castle and the Waratah’s CEO, Andrew Hore, issued a statement that read: “Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Rugby Union have made repeated attempts to contact Israel both directly and via his representatives, and at this point he has failed to communicate directly with either organisation,”
“Whilst Israel is entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed these beliefs is inconsistent with the values of the sport. We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts.
“Israel has failed to understand that the expectation of him as a Rugby Australia and NSW Waratahs employee is that he cannot share material on social media that condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality.
“Rugby is a sport that continuously works to unite people. We want everyone to feel safe and welcome in our game and no vilification based on race, gender, religion or sexuality is acceptable and no language that isolates, divides or insults people based on any of those factors can be tolerated.
“As a code, we have made it clear to Israel formally and repeatedly that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action.
“In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.”
This page records some of the push-back Folau got from other sportspeople. (Be prepared for foul language.)
April 15 2019
Rugby Australia commented as follows.
A Christian, Caleb Young, questions whether Folau should have said what he did.
May 7 2019
The Rugby Australia Integrity Unit found Israel Folau guilty of a high level breach of his code of conduct.
May 17 2019
Rugby Australia sacked Israel Folau saying, ““When we say rugby is a game for all, we mean it. People need to feel safe and welcomed in our game regardless of their gender, race, background, religion, or sexuality,” said Rugby Australia.
“We thank the tribunal panel for their decision and we respect the time, consideration and expertise the panel members brought to this process.”
Israel Folau issued a statement saying, “It has been a privilege and an honour to represent Australia and my home state of New South Wales, playing the game I love,” the statement read.
“I am deeply saddened by today’s decision to terminate my employment and I am considering my options.
“As Australians, we are born with certain rights, including the right to freedom of religion and the right to freedom of expression. The Christian faith has always been a part of my life and I believe it is my duty as a Christian to share God’s word. Upholding my religious beliefs should not prevent my ability to work or play for my club and country.
“I would like to thank my wife Maria for her love and encouragement to stay true to our beliefs. We have been humbled by the support we have received from family, friends, players, fans and the wider community.
“Thank you also to those who have spoken out in my defence, some of whom do not share my beliefs but have defended my right to express them.”
Israel Folau announced that he would be taking legal action against Rugby Australia, taking his case to the Fair Work Commission claiming that he had been sacked because of the exercise of his religious faith.
June 19 2019
Israel Folau launched a GoFundMe appeal seeking $3 million to help fight his legal case.
There was an outcry questioning why a reportedly multi-millionaire would appeal for funds from the public, including from former team-mate Drew Mitchell.
Given the backlash, GoFundMe removed the campaign saying that it could remove campaigns “for the legal defence of alleged crimes associated with hate, violence, harassment, bullying, discrimination, terrorism or intolerance of any kind relating to race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender or gender identity or serious disabilities or diseases”
June 25 2019
The Australian Christian Lobby set up a rival fund-raising page which raised $2 million in 2 days. They then took that down because it had been so successful and they do not yet know what the legal fees are going to amount to.
The Folau Fallout
In the above interview, Folau claimed that Rugby Australia had offered him money to take down his post. Rugby Australia has denied that.
Fr Rod Bower spoke out opposing Israel Folau.
Of course, others have applauded his courage in speaking truth and condemned those who are so friendly with the world that they will never share the gospel. The gospel has always offended people.
Why do you think Alfred Ngaro was so reluctant to say whether or not he agrees with Israel Folau’s views?
a) He was scared of the backlash?
b) It would be political suicide?
c) He was right to emphasise that all people are sinners (not his words)?
d) He effectviely did when he said that he agreed with the Bible?
e) Some other reason? What?
The legal issues
Israel Folau’s church
It is reported that Israel Folau’s church teaches unorthodox beliefs and suggests those who do not agree with them are not Christians. Does that make a difference when it comes to questions of religious freedom?
And, just out of interest: Britain’s Israel Folau.
And for a New Zealand story related to freedom of consience…