Australian rugby star Israel Folau, an outspoken Christian, is facing new challenges in what he considers an unjust termination. Last month, Folau—the country’s highest paid rugby player, with a $4 million contract—was fired for posting to social media a Bible reference deemed homophobic.
Israel Folau Attempts to Raise Funds for Legal Fees
To help with legal expenses, Folau launched a GoFundMe page, but the platform removed it this week, saying the site does “not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion.” MyCause, Australia’s largest crowdfunding site, also has refused the athlete’s fundraising request.
Donations for Folau are now being gathered through the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), which jump-started the effort with a $100,000 donation of its own. But now a watchdog group, the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC), is investigating the ACL after receiving complaints.
“This is a religious freedom issue,” says the ACL
Registered charities must comply with certain standards, states the ACNC, including not providing “private benefits to members.” But ACL managing director Martyn Iles says Folau isn’t a member; instead, “This is a religious freedom issue which…has implications for law and public policy.” Iles says, “Over 15,000 people have donated, and the average donation is about $100 and about 10 donors per minute. That’s pretty incredible.”
“Activists don’t just want to silence Israel Folau; they want to make an example out of him,” Iles adds. “They want to make it very clear that for people of faith and for people with beliefs that fit outside the narrow band of political correctness, there is no place for them in the public square. This sort of public lynching is unacceptable in a supposedly modern, tolerant, and ethnically and religiously diverse country like Australia, and our politicians cannot simply wash their hands like Pontius Pilate.”
Folau Receives Widespread Support
Gillian Triggs, former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission (which advocates for gay rights, among other causes), supports Folau’s right to free speech. “I don’t think that one should lose one’s job for…a reflection that could be a religious view,” she says. “I think it is really foolish and disproportionate to prevent him from preaching something that I think he probably believes quite deeply as a matter of religious expression.”
Glenn Davies, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, says Folau’s post “canvassed some basic tenets of the Christian faith. It was not the entire Christian message, but it was posted without malice and from a place of deep conscience and concern. It encompassed all people, for we are all liars. It was posted with respect and with urgency. It had nothing to do with rugby, and it should have been his right as a citizen to speak of what he believes without threat to his employment.”
“The way in which Folau’s motives have been impugned and his avenues of support have been cut off smacks of a new and ugly Australia where dissent from narrow cultural views is not tolerated,” Davies adds. “Loud, intolerant voices swamp the quiet faith of many.”
Saying Folau’s case “is symptomatic of the culture war across the Anglosphere,” researcher Sumantra Maitra warns that “Any opposition or questioning of any slippery-slope ideas, narratives, or agenda is gradually becoming considered bigotry and will result in one-sided discrimination and censorship, usually disproportionately against conservatives.”