An Australian football player lost his job with Rugby Australia recently because of comments he made on Instagram. Before I disclose what these comments were, it’s worth pointing out that an employer is free to dismiss employees who break their employment contract provided the contract is legal and I would be surprised if Rugby Australia’s contract wasn’t.
What did he say? He said, “Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators … hell awaits you. Repent! Only Jesus saves“.
The ethicist, Peter Singer, has a good opinion piece on the topic in which he supports Folau’s right to freedom of speech – Rugby Australia’s “Own Goal”.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that Folau’s post falls squarely within traditional Christian teachings that Christians accepted almost unanimously until the twentieth century, and that continue to be held widely – though against strong and growing opposition – among Christians today. The post clearly draws on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in which Paul is reported as saying: “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men,nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
An Australian journalist, David Marr, has a slightly different interpretation – With Israel Folau the church demands a kind of free speech that keeps gays in the firing line.
The fact is, condemning gays to hell is vilification. Yes, St Paul was on the case way back at the start but that only makes it vilification with a pedigree.
While Folau isn’t calling for men like me to be stoned, whipped or pushed off high buildings, I reckon he is free to preach his horrible beliefs. But his freedom shouldn’t trample my freedom or the freedom of anyone else.
We are free to say he’s a dork to carry on like this about gays and drunks and idolaters. (That means Catholics, by the way.) And Land Rover is free to stop him promoting their luxury cars. And GoFundMe is free not to be the platform where he raises millions to fight Rugby Australia.
What’s my view? I certainly don’t share Falou’s beliefs and like Peter Singer, I too am an atheist and have been condemned to hell but since I don’t believe in hell I don’t care. However, I do think that employers can dismiss employees who break their employment contract so I think this is a question of legality and whether he did breach the terms of his contract. According to the legal website, Lexology, Falou is potentially in breach of the player code of conduct which stipulates:
1.3: Treat everyone equally, fairly and with dignity regardless of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural or religious background, age or disability. Any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination has no place in Rugby.
1.7: Use Social Media appropriately. By all means share your positive experiences of Rugby but do not use Social Media as a means to breach any of the expectations and requirements of you as a player contained in this Code or in any Union, club or competition rules and regulations.
1.8: Do not otherwise act in a way that may adversely affect or reflect on, or bring you, your team, club, Rugby Body or Rugby into disrepute or discredit. If you commit a criminal offence, this is likely to adversely reflect on you and your team, club, Rugby Body and Rugby.
Folau’s contract was worth $4 million per year. He reportedly owns six homes with a combined worth of over $7 million. Folau is a millionaire. And yet he started a GoFundMe page asking for donations for his legal fight against Rugby Australia. When the donations reached $750,000, GoFundMe suspended the page and refunded all the donations because it was against their own terms of service. Following this decision an Australian Christian Lobby group started a new fund-raising campaign for him, kick-starting it with a donation of $100,000. The last update I saw was this campaign had surpassed $1.8 million in donations.
According to Wikipedia, there are only a handful of passages in the bible that refer to homosexuality and there is some disagreement as to the meaning of these. By contrast, caring for the poor is a fundamental teaching of the Bible and Christians are instructed to sell their possessions so they can give to the poor:
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
According to The World Bank, 10% of the world’s population lives on less than US$1.90 per day (2015 figures). These are people who don’t have sufficient food to eat, housing, or access to clean water. Folau could do much to alleviate this poverty with his $7 million and the $1.8 million he has received in donations. Not only would he be following the teachings of his religion if he did so, but he would also be spreading an admirable message. There is much to be admired about Jesus and his teachings of compassion and forgiveness towards others, even by atheists like me.