Former Wallabies star Israel Folau has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise A$3 million ($2.1 million) for his legal battle against Rugby Australia after he was sacked for sharing a meme about homosexuals, adulterer, and liars on social media.
The 30-year-old’s A$1.25 million ($866,000) per year contract was terminated by Rugby Australia last month after the controversial online post, shared with a Bible verse, was deemed homophobic. It followed a similar ordeal last year.
The devout Christian uploaded an image referencing 1 Corinthians 6:9 to Instagram, which stated that drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, and idolaters would go to hell unless they repented.
His post was ruled by Rugby Australia’s independent, three-person code of conduct panel to be a “high level” breach and his four-year employment contract, which was signed just last year, was terminated.
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Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him. _______________ Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these , adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 KJV _______________ Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Acts 2:38 KJV _______________ And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Acts 17:30 KJV _______________
Shorting after the panel’s ruling, Folau filed an appeal with the state’s Fair Word Commission, claiming that Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby had sacked him for his religious beliefs.
Folau claimed on June 6 that his dismissal was unlawful and breached Section 772 of the New South Wales Fair Work Act, which states that it is unlawful to terminate employment on the grounds of religion.
He told 2GB radio’s conservative commentator Alan Jones on June 21 that his termination was “inconsistent,” as there had been no clause in his contract to state that he couldn’t express his religious beliefs outside the workplace.
“I’m always about sharing that from a place of love and believing in the Bible that people … have the opportunity to hear that, so they do repent if they choose to and turn away from [sin] and have an opportunity to be in heaven one day,” he said.
Folau’s lawyers said in a statement that he was seeking “substantial remedies from his former employers should they be found to have breached the Fair Work Act in terminating his employment,” reported Australia’s public service broadcaster the ABC.
The GoFundMe page, seeking help with the former Australian rugby star’s legal costs, has raised more than A$300,000 ($207,546) of its A$3 million ($2.1 million) goal at the time of publishing.
Folau said in a message on the fundraising platform, “My faith is the most important thing in my life. I try to live my life according to the Bible and I believe it is my duty to share the word of the Bible.
“Earlier this year, I uploaded some messages from the Bible on my Instagram page. I believe that sharing the Bible is an act of love and compassion.
“Since my contract was terminated, I have been overwhelmed and humbled by the support received from family, friends, fans and the public. Even people who don’t share my beliefs have defended my right to uphold and express them,” he added.
He revealed that he and his wife, Maria, have spent A$100,000 ($69,000) of their own money covering legal costs so far, and that he is preparing for higher legal fees in the future.
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“That was just to try and deal with Rugby Australia’s internal tribunal processes,” he said. “The money I am asking for is solely to fund the rest of my action in court,’ he wrote on his GoFundMe page.
The termination of the former rugby star’s contract has sparked controversy over religious freedom, with several Coalition government MPs arguing that more needs to ensure that the freedom to freely express one’s religious beliefs and opinions remains protected under evolving laws.
Australian Liberal MP Tim Wilson, who proposed to his husband in parliament in 2017, told the ABC that he believes Folau “didn’t cross the line,” as people should be able to freely express their opinions.
“Rugby isn’t just a game for people who are agnostic or atheist in a free, pluralistic democracy, that should have space for everybody to express their opinion,” he said. “Quoting the Bible or reciting a well-established position around morality and private morality I don’t think crosses that line.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is also a Pentecostal Christian like Folau, branded Folau’s comments as “insensitive.”
“It’s important that when you’re in public life, you’re just very mindful of being sensitive to other Australians and that you speak with that empathy,” Morrison told a press conference.
Meanwhile, New Zealand MP Louisa Wall said she was concerned Folau’s comments could harm young, gay people.
“I’m sure he’d [Folau] be distressed to know his comments can kill, and they kill because young people feel despair because (they feel) there’s something wrong with them, and they should take their own lives,” Wall told New Zealand’s 1 NEWS in April.
“He doesn’t really realise that what he’s said literally means to a gay person that there’s something wrong with you, and you should suffer for the rest of your life unless you repent.
“He needs to reflect on his role as a public figure, and what he says and how it influences, particularly young people,” Wall added.
Folau sparked further debate on June 16 after he condemned homosexuality in a sermon at a church in Kenthurst, Sydney. The sermon was streamed on social media. He also lashed out at procedures that allow young people to “change their gender.”
AAP and AFP contributed to this report.